By Trevor Busch
Following an outcry of public opposition, town council has reversed a previous decision to relocate a new emergency services building on 50th Street near 52nd Avenue.
It was standing-room only in council chambers on Oct. 9 for the public hearing on Land Use Amendment Bylaw 21-2018, with double-digit numbers in attendance ensuring citizen opinions were voiced (for coverage of the public hearing, please see Page B6).The bylaw concerned rezoning the properties in question selected as a location.
On Aug. 20, council had directed administration (Resolution 410/2018) to move forward with the purchase of three properties, including Taber Church of Christ property and two residences 5303 50th Street, 5219 50th Street, and 5215 50th Street. Council also directed administration to begin the process of subdividing the church lands and consolidating all three purchased parcels, as well as creating a Direct Control Land Use District.
After hearing more than a dozen citizens voice their concerns or support during the public hearing on Oct. 9, town council moved into consideration of second reading of Bylaw 21-2018. All citizens save one had spoken in opposition to the fire hall location, but Coun. Joe Strojwas remained unmoved by this vocal airing of grievances.
“We’ve been dealing with this ever since we’ve been on council, and it just seems to be going on and on and on. And yes, this council and previous council have made some mistakes when it comes to proceeding with all of this here. I have a problem with that, but that’s all in the past… the economic drivers of this town — Lamb-Weston, Rogers, Hostess Frito-Lay — all of these people have told us this community needed more housing for their workers… there’s a lot of things to consider. I think we need to proceed ahead with second reading and third reading tonight.”
Hearkening back to a promise of further consultation made to the electorate following an emergency services building open house in early 2017, Coun. Louie Tams pressed council to consider this commitment before making any further forward progress.
“We as a council had an open house with the citizens of Taber, and at that open house I do believe we said before we built anything, we would return back to the citizens of Taber. The question that I have, if we pass this, or an RFP, we’re not going back to the citizens of the town of Taber and saying here’s what we’re doing now. We’re going back to say here’s what we did. At that open house, we did promise the citizens of this town before we did this, we would come back to them. I wonder, are we coming back to the citizens?”
Strojwas acknowledged this commitment, and suggested the decision needed to be tabled.
“Councillor Tams is right, we did say that at that open house, and we were going to have more community engagement. So perhaps we need to table this and go back to the community, and have a large community engagement.”
CAO Cory Armfelt was concerned that tabling the decision at second reading would leave lot sellers hanging indefinitely in the lurch until a final decision by council is made further in the future.
Mayor Andrew Prokop was also convinced that town council needs to consult with the public before any final decisions are implemented.
“I think, all things considered and in all fairness to our gallery, the people that are in attendance with a keen interest in what happens with all of this — we did miss a step about consulting the public. Anybody that knows me well knows that I’m all about fairness. In all fairness, I think we need to go there. I’m a firm believer in a central location somewhere. Is this the right place? Maybe not. But we need to do something, we believe there is a need to do this somewhere, but we need to do it in the right place.”
Following a recommendation from Armfelt that council rescind Resolution 410/2018 from Aug. 20, Tams reiterated council’s need to consult with the public before any decision can be considered final.
“I truly believe that we need to first go to the public and say here’s the building — because we have a drawing — here’s the rough estimates — and we do have a rough estimate from low tender to high tender — and we do have a location. It’s incumbent on council, if we’re going to convince the citizens of the town of Taber that is the right location, that is the right building, and that we’re doing the right thing. I think we need to have that open house with the citizens of the town of Taber first.”
Information that came to light during the earlier public hearing, including a 2015 consulting report, led Coun. Garth Bekkering to reconsider his position on the issue and location.
“I’m no longer wedded to it at all. Three reasons, and I may as well say them. I was not aware of the cost of the RFD here tonight. The 2015 FireWise report, I was not aware of until someone contacted me and said read it. The third one — last but not least — the people have spoken again. So I’m not wedded to the location.”
In a rare public admission for a politician, Tams apologized for his part in town council’s Aug. 20 decision without first consulting the public.
“I screwed up. I voted, and it should have been first have an open house. For that, I apologize. Administration followed our instruction to a ‘T’, thank you, but I have to change my mind.”
Bekkering put forward the motion to rescind Resolution 410/2018, but before being put to a vote Strojwas issued a scathing rebuke of a previous council’s conduct in relocating an original fire hall to build the Taber Public Library.
“If you look back to when that fire hall was moved and a library was built there, I’d like to know why it was moved out of the centre of town to begin with, because we wouldn’t be here dealing with this today if it was left where it should have been, in the centre of town. It’s really unfortunate we’re paying the price for this here now, some 15 years later.”
Following discussion, council voted 5-2 to rescind Resolution 410/2018. Coun.(s) Jack Brewin and Carly Firth opposed the motion. In a follow-up motion, council voted 5-2 to defeat Bylaw 21-2018 at second reading. Coun.(s) Jack Brewin and Joe Strojwas were the only votes in favour of passing the bylaw.
No dollar figures or property values were included in Resolution 410/2018, but council had also instructed administration to investigate building prices through a request for purchase. Later in the meeting following a brief presentation, council would also vote unanimously to reject all tenders for a new emergency services building.
Resolution 410/2018 did not include any specific dates or a timeline for when council intended to break ground on the new facility, or host an open house.
A further resolution put forward later by Tams and passed unanimously agreed to host another emergency services open house during the third week of January 2019 (for further coverage of the Oct. 9 meeting related to a new emergency services building, please see the Oct. 24 edition of The Taber Times).
Conversations regarding the potential relocation of the emergency services building in Taber have been ongoing since 2009. Following closed session discussion in July 2017 town council had voted unanimously to set aside $1.5 million for a new fire hall building from the William Ferguson estate, with the fire hall to be dedicated and named after William Ferguson.