We have an exciting opportunity here to engage in conversation about a capital project – the branch library – and for the first time in St. Albert’s history it can be heavily talked about on social media. I see this as a wonderful chance for anyone running in the election to listen to the residents wishes and concerns.
I have been watching various conversations and wanted to make sure a few numbers and facts are correct for this debate. And I want to make clear my position on this issue
- THE BUDGET/COST OF THE LIBRARY
Below is a link to our approved budget for 2017. The branch library has been passed unanimously for 17.4 million dollars, not 21.9 million
The two numbers may be confusing. The approved borrowing bylaw is for 21.9 million and acts in many ways like a pre-approved mortgage a bank would give you before you start looking for a house, but just because you could spend what the bank allows doesn’t mean you will or should. The budget of 17.4 million is what council has directed our administration to work within and city policy does not allow them to spend more and definitely does not give permission to go 50% over as some on social media have come to believe.
- PROPERTY TAX INCREASES
The second number that is misunderstood is the annual increase to property taxes if a branch library were built. This is very difficult to predict and is subject to so many decisions that have yet to be made. An initial estimate was given to council in a formal information request this spring. The link is below.
The tax increases will be spread out over a few years if the branch is built and it really depends on where we build and how much debt we take on. As you can see in the tax increase could be about 2.4% when you combine the debt servicing and the annual operating costs. Even if the library cost $25M, which nobody on council has approved, the increase would be under 3%
- MY UPCOMING MOTION
It was said on Facebook and Twitter that I have a motion to “accelerate the branch library”. This is untrue. My only motion regarding the branch library is to shift the funding source away from debt and use some of our uncommitted reserves to reduce the amount we borrow. This will actually decrease the impact to our taxes. But in no way does it accelerate any decisions regarding the branch library.
In fact, on July 10th in council I very clearly stated that NO MONEY WOULD BE SPENT ON THIS LIBRARY UNTIL 2018. That’s assuming the new council wants to proceed. Until then, $0 should be spent on the library.
I happily voted in favour of the ballot questions being added in October. It will be great to hear from residents at election time, and I hope everyone in the city comes out to express their opinion. I am committed to waiting until after the election before any money is spent on any of those possible projects.
If we do build a library, or any other recreation facilities, we need to look at alternate funding models to further reduce our dependence on the residential tax model. Nobody wants taxes to go up. Partnerships with private sector businesses, provincial and federal grants, and merging services to share operating costs are all options we should explore more deeply.
Which is the motivation behind my motion of July 10 to get all of the stake holders in a new athletics facility into a room together to talk. A lot of groups want land and buildings, and by working together I know we can find ways to reduce tax payers burdens. It is sad that this motion was not fully supported by all councilors.
I do believe there is a need for more library space and I respect the numerous studies and options that have already been put forward, including the petition that was recently circulated. While it was deemed legally insufficient, it sends a clear message. That’s why I voted in favor of the questions being put onto the ballot.
I also believe there is a need for more swimming and ice facilities in St. Albert. We are a growing community that enjoys a great lifestyle we are proud of. A growing city needs to build facilities for it’s residents.
There is an opportunity in the next few months to discuss these projects with all candidates and to become informed before you vote. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. It is my hope that the library and other conversations regarding recreation facilities in St. Albert become a place of community building rather than division and anger