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UCP austerity forces town budget cuts

Posted on January 29, 2020 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

In response to the province’s campaign of fiscal restraint, big cuts to the Town of Taber’s 2020 capital budget totaled $4.2 million and targeted high-profile items like the Small Ice Arena and $1.1 million in paving projects.

The cuts mandated by town council were directed at their Nov. 12, 2019 meeting, where the 2020 operating and capital budgets were discussed in closed session. These projects have now resurfaced as part of the 2021 capital budget.

“Things are just basically delayed right now. I don’t know if you can look at them as cuts, they’re just taken off for 2020,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop in a recent interview with the Times. “What was in 2020 has now been moved to 2021.”

Some of the cuts for 2020 include the Trout Pond Phase 3 – Moved from 2019 ($150,000), Small Ice Arena Upgrade ($1,600,000), Community Centre Roof Repair ($405,000), Rototiller Replacement Unit 6-03 ($20,000), and a Kubota ATV 4X4 Replacement Unit 5-11 ($27,000).

A recommended upgrade to the Small Ice Arena figured prominently in the town’s recent Recreation Master Plan delivered in late 2019, and Prokop explained the rationale behind council’s decision to cut the project in 2020.

“That was originally in 2020, and has been moved to 2021. That’s $1.6 million. We had to get to that roughly $5 million figure to take off 2020. That was a fairly big one, so that was the rationale behind that. That doesn’t say it isn’t going to fly for 2021 — it’s earmarked now for 2021 — but again, that could change, but we have some time to deal with that. But for now, that’s kind of what we had to do, and realize that we couldn’t do it all, or too much all at once, with the (provincial) cuts that we’re all exposed to now that we have to face and can’t get around them. So those were some of the decisions that were necessary for that purpose there, but it doesn’t say they’re off the table entirely, but for the most part moved to the following year.”

Paving cuts in 2020 include the Arena – Community Centre – Aquafun Parking Lots ($500,000), Community Centre – Curling Rink Parking Lot ($625,000), Legion Park Parking Lot ($90,000), and the Administration Building Parking Lot ($110,000).

“Asphalt replacement is pretty pricey,” said Prokop. “And depending on the kind of winter we have, that’s what’s tough on it. That’s what we try to focus on is the priorities. They’re in rough shape, there’s no doubt, but when you’re looking to do the cuts you have to pick something.”

Refocusing attention on the $1.6 million Small Ice Arena Upgrade, recommended as a key renovation in the recent Recreation Master Plan, Prokop admits he has doubts about any proposals to potentially downscale the current project.

“Now they’re saying that there may be something to look at — for lack of better terminology — a ‘Band-Aid’ fix. Not to replace it entirely, fix-me-ups to make. Whatever they’re referring to as a ‘Band-Aid’ fix, it’s still going to be pretty pricey. But really originally the idea, when we did that last study with MPE Engineering with the three options, the Small Ice replacement was the cheapest but it didn’t seem to be feasible in MPE’s opinion to do anything but replace it. Either you do that, or the two large ice surface options. But the Small Ice replacement was the cheapest of the three. But they didn’t seem to think that just band-aiding this or band-aiding that was feasible. So the jury is still out on that, so to speak.”

In the 2017 MPE Engineering study of the structure, three options were presented including direct replacement, expanding the current building north to allow for regulation size ice, or having a whole new separate building constructed for a regulation-sized rink. Replacing the Small Ice came in at a price tag of $1.51 million, with the other two options costing approximately $5.04 and $6.96 million respectively.

Prokop clearly believes pushing forward with direct replacement would be the better option.

“There’s some questions to be asked and some clarifications. I don’t see it, because I know from what I understand structurally, there’s some major problems there in certain areas. So just to ‘Band-Aid’ that I think is a big mistake. I don’t know that you can, really. If you’re going to do some major fix-me-ups that are required, you’re probably better off just knocking it down and starting from square one in whatever capacity you do it. It makes no sense to me to just do a little bit.”

Also suffering the glint of the axe was a Skid Steer with Grader Attachment – Replacing Tool Cat ($89,500), Administration Building Bathroom Renovation ($200,000), Commercial/Industrial Multi-Family Bins ($50,000), and a Service Truck ($60,000).

“It’s the same thing there, basically taking it off the 2020 budget and put over to 2021,” said Prokop. “And again, that could change for those items, too. But they certainly were not priority items that needed to be dealt with in 2020.”

Council removed projects in the amount of $4.2 million, leaving a balance of $9.6 million with $5.4 million funded from reserves. Other cuts include GPS Tracking ($50,000) and Server Upgrades ($60,000).

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