SUNDRE — Council was almost paralyzed by indecision last week over whether to apply for provincial stimulus funding towards one of two projects proposed by administration, or split the funds between both.
The Town of Sundre is poised to receive nearly $325,000 from the provincial government's stimulus package, called Alberta’s Recovery Plan, which includes a component of $500 million for municipal projects that would otherwise not have been possible.
Following a lengthy discussion during a special meeting conducted by teleconference on Thursday, Aug. 13, a motion was eventually carried — by one vote — to direct administration to prepare applications for both projects.
One was to repave the surface of Centre Street from south of the Bearberry Bridge to the Greenwood Campground without doing any subsurface work, while the other was to begin developing engineering and architectural plans for land on the east side of the Red Deer River that was recently acquired by the municipality.
Chris Albert, director of corporate services, informed council during a preamble to the discussion that the broadband project, the sewage lagoon upgrades, and the resurfacing of the Highway 27-Main Avenue corridor as well as the arena upgrades were ineligible.
“On July 30, we received the guidelines for the program, which is designed to distribute stimulus funding quickly and equitably across the province so local governments can help support local jobs and stimulate the economy…both through construction and over the life of the asset,” said Linda Nelson, chief administrative officer.
Nelson added applications must be submitted prior to Oct. 1, and that payments would begin shortly after projects have been approved. The main caveats are that projects must start either this year or next, and not result in any increase to municipal taxes.
“We have identified two key projects that we feel would fit within the eligibility guidelines,” she said, turning the floor to Albert.
“Sundre’s allocation is a little bit over $324,000,” he said.
“We looked at it in terms of maximizing the use of the funding — getting the most bang for our buck — and minimizing the use of town funds.”
Another restriction for the funds, he explained, is that the government would prefer projects that were not already previously approved to proceed this year or next. Additionally, projects that had already started were also ineligible, and the funding cannot be used for operational expenses, he said.
In the end, administration narrowed the options down to the two projects, but recommended choosing one instead of splitting the limited stimulus funding between both, he said, adding whichever project wasn’t selected would be brought back for consideration during the fall workshop’s budget discussions.
While the Centre Street resurfacing had the potential to be completed this year, the project’s construction would have required only one contractor and taken upwards of about two weeks to complete, he said.
Administration’s recommendation was to allocate the funding towards the longer-term endeavour to develop the newly acquired land. That option was felt would generate a more beneficial economic ripple effect by converting the space into a campground and multi-use recreational area, he said.
“There’s lots of components to this project,” such as planning and construction phases, he said, adding there’s also a potential to generate revenue in future phases.
“So, various organizations would probably benefit from this.”
However, the total dollar commitment required would remain unknown until a full plan is developed, he said.
There was also the possibility of splitting the funding between both projects. But he cautioned against that approach, which he said would run the risk of completing neither project to the public’s satisfaction, potentially prompting negative feedback over an unfinished job.
“That’s why we wanted to focus strictly on one project.”
Coun. Cheri Funke motioned to apply for the stimulus funding to go towards Centre Street from the traffic lights south to the campground, as well as to begin work on the first phase of development for the new land.
The councillor felt that would generate positivity in the community, by tackling a portion of a problematic road in the short term, while at the same time beginning the longer-term process of developing the new recreational space.
The ensuing conversation largely left council divided. While each member of council supported both projects, not all were convinced splitting the stimulus funding was the best course of action.
Coun. Richard Warnock asked whether there was any risk involved in seeking to pursue both projects as opposed to focusing on one.
“The only risk is that if we don’t put enough detail into the new lands project, or if we don’t put enough funding behind it to do some real work, we’re worried there is the potential that they (Municipal Affairs) may disallow that project,” said Albert.
Albert later elaborated by adding administration was confident that creating development and engineering plans would be covered by the stimulus funding, provided the municipality had outlined clear intentions to progress with some form of construction afterwards.
Several members of council expressed concern that splitting the stimulus between the two projects would not leave enough for either.
The deciding vote came onto the shoulders of Coun. Paul Isaac, who was torn.
“I’m on both sides of the fence on this one…I guess I’m going to say that I support the motion,” Isaac said after struggling to weigh out the pros and cons.
The motion ended up carrying with mayor Terry Leslie, Coun. Rob Wolfe, and Warnock opposed.