By Trevor Busch
Penny pinching has become a municipal byword in 2020, and with that in mind the Town of Taber has approved a lean and streamlined 2021 capital budget of just over $3.7 million.
Originally presented on Sept. 14 and based on discussions at that meeting, administration finalized the 2021 capital project list for the Nov. 9 meeting. The preliminary 2021 capital project list was presented with a total of $15,379,800, but that figure has now been significantly reduced.
“That was a little scary. We went back and looked at this capital very closely,” said finance director John Orwa.
“We’ve scaled it down to about $3.7 million. And out of that $3.7 million, the total amount that will be affected from the reserves is under $1 million. So that means the total capital contribution that we have every year will push some of it — a fraction of it — back to reserves.”
The capital budget for 2021 totals $3,734,993. Funding sources include $944,743 from reserves, $980,750 from MSI, $459,500 from other grants, and $1,350,000 from LTD. By comparison, the 2020 capital budget totaled $9.6 million with $5.4 million funded from reserves, but had also seen council cut $4.2 million in projects.
Projects in Engineering and Public Works include the 2021-25 Alberta Regional Stormwater Project ($20,693), Water Meter Program ($30,000), 53rd Avenue Cast Iron Replacement and Sanitary Lining ($510,000), UV Light Replacement WWTP ($250,000), Landfill Loader Tire Replacement ($40,000), and Collection Carts – Garbage, Recycling and Organics ($25,000).
In Planning, there will be a refurbishment of administrative space ($80,000), and the Affordable and Alternative Housing Project NE Servicing ($1,350,000). Recreation projects include a Dog Park Shelter ($10,000), Spray Park Tot Table ($35,000), Westview Estates Playground ($75,000), Combined Heat and Power – Aquafun ($556,000), Rock Sign at KMMSC ($7,500), and the Tower Theatre Building Assessment ($7,000). Information Technology is targeting a Diamond Software Version Upgrade ($10,000) and Annual Computer Replacements ($222,800).
The Taber Police Service has a variety of upgrades and replacements planned, such as a SOCO Camera ($5,000), Generator Upgrade ($166,000), Bull Pen Furniture ($50,000), Dispatch Cabinet ($5,000), Access Control ($75,000), Carpet Replacement ($45,000), Police Car – CSO CF ($55,000), and an Annual Car Replacement ($55,000). The Taber Fire Department is seeking a Command Unit ($50,000).
There are also three projects dependent on receiving targeted stimulus funding, including the EMS Parking Lot Replacement ($110,000), Administration Building West Parking Lot Replacement ($110,000), and the Aquafun/Community Centre/Curling Rink Parking Lot Replacement ($781,829).
The MSI capital grant program will come to an end in 2022-2023 and will be replaced with Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF). The allocation formula and program design is still being developed by the province. Affordable housing and servicing projects requiring funding from long-term debt are approximately $1.35 million, with debt to be serviced by the sale of lots.
Alternate Projects, which Orwa pointed out could be reincorporated into the 2021 capital budget if council desired but were not currently included, consisted of a Downtown Bulb Out – 52nd Street and 48th Avenue ($250,000), 53rd Avenue Parking Stalls ($110,000), Small Ice Arena Upgrade ($1,750,000), and the 50th Avenue and 56th Street Bulb Out – Police Station ($34,000).
“In the Alternate Projects I keep seeing these bulb outs pop up into the budget,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “A bulb out doesn’t really do much for enhancing the downtown area and it doesn’t bring business into town. If we’re going to spend that kind of money, I’d rather spend it on the entranceway into town where people can see and come in before we do another bulb out. And I realize the bulb outs are eventually going to have to be done — for the inclusion factor, so it’s all the same — but it would be my opinion to take that $250,000 out of there.”
“I believe it’s been in the capital budget for five years now,” said public works director Gary Scherer. “So it’s been com- ing forward and coming forward. But it’s up to council.”
A long-time opponent of intersection bulb outs in the downtown area, Coun. Jack Brewin agreed with Strojwas.
“If I recall, I thought I made a motion to remove that from our capital budget, until we decided to do anything with it, not to keep it following forward. But I agree with Councillor Strojwas, that’s not something we want yet.”
Citing traffic issues in the area, Coun. Mark Garner argued the bulb out near the Taber Police Station is relatively inexpensive and should be completed.
“When I look at those alternate projects, one talks about 50th Avenue and 56th Street Bulb Out at the police station, $34,000. I think that should be elevated up in importance, because that particular intersection is kind of nightmare trafficwise, safety-wise. Anybody that’s gone through that gauntlet you have to kind of nudge yourself out almost into the line of traffic, and I can see that we should maybe put that up in priority.”
Strojwas questioned this line of analysis.
“Is a bulb out going to solve the traffic flow problems there?”
“It’s going to definitely help with the visibility problem,” replied Garner.
Brewin wanted to see hard evidence before considering the project.
“Definitely before we did it I would like to see drawings that would exactly show us how it would help, if it’s a necessity for sure. But right now I don’t think we need to spend money on bulb outs.”
Mayor Andrew Prokop remained unconvinced.
“I would agree. That’s been an issue for quite some time, and I’m not quite sure how completing that bulb out does change that visibility-wise to any great extent without, as Councillor Brewin said, looking at a drawing format, so it may not be the best money spent as a result.”
Garner, who sits as a council representative on the town’s Traffic Committee, again pointed to the low price tag of the project.
“I can say that we have talked about this somewhat in the Traffic Committee, and when you look at the price of a bulb out, I think you guys are equating $250,000. We’re not equating $250,000, we’re looking at $34,000. So I don’t know that you can compare those two equally.”
Prokop inquired how this figure was estimated to be so low in comparison to other bulb out projects.
“How does that get down to $34,000 when it was basically half done previously?”
“The big bulb out is on the west side — you’re all aware of that — and it’s just a matter of putting another curb and some concrete in, and making sure that concrete swale has drainage,” replied Scherer. “So it’s very minimal.”
Following this discussion, Coun. Carly Firth put forward the motion to approve the 2021 capital budget with funding as presented.
Strojwas floated a friendly amendment eliminating the 52nd Street and 48th Avenue Bulb Out ($250,000) from the Alternate Projects listing.
“The alternate items were there for your consideration to add back into the budget, but are not part of the capital budget,” said recreation director Dawn Phillips.
Brewin also questioned whether the Alternate Projects list should be removed.
“For that alternative category, we would only include them in the budget if council wants them to be included,” said Orwa. “But if council doesn’t give that instruction, then the whole alternates — all those projects — I’ve moved them, they stay in the 10-year plan but for 2022 for council to again reconsider the following year.”
After this explanation, Firth refused Strojwas’ amendment. The motion passed by a 5-2 vote, with Councillors Louie Tams and Strojwas in opposition.
When originally presented on Sept. 14, the draft capital budget totaled $15,379,800.
With a now-amended capital budget of $3,734,993, this represents a cut of $11,644,807.