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Amended ballot questions won't include numbers

TIMELINE FOR BRANCH LIBRARY DECISION 2002: a programming and feasibility study from the public library recommends a branch library, a larger facility for the current library or renovations to the current library space to accommodate the facility's ne

TIMELINE FOR BRANCH LIBRARY DECISION 2002: a programming and feasibility study from the public library recommends a branch library, a larger facility for the current library or renovations to the current library space to accommodate the facility's needs. 2006: the city's St. Albert Place Civic Space Study recommends a branch library. 2008: the city's St. Albert Public Library Site Selection Study looks at locations. 2009: city staff present to city council on a location. Nov. 26, 2015: city council approves the Community Branch Library project charter. April 25, 2016: city council approves a memorandum of understanding between the city and the library to establish a management framework for the branch library. Oct. 3, 2016: city council accepts a presentation on the branch library's conceptual plan, which the city contributed $100,000 to. Dec. 12, 2016: city council approves its 2017 capital budget, which includes $17.5 million in funding for the branch library. March 13, 2017: city council fails a motion by Coun. Bob Russell for administration to develop plebiscite questions. Council authorizes administration to negotiate the purchase of lands for the library. May 15, 2017: council receives a petition against a borrowing bylaw to fund the branch library. Council approves plebiscite questions from Coun. Sheena Hughes. June 12, 2017: City council learns the petition against the borrowing bylaw has been declared invalid because not enough signatures were supported with valid affidavits. July 10: city council approves its borrowing bylaw. Sept. 5: city council amends plebiscite questions to remove numbers.
  Estimated construction costs, operating costs and tax increases for three capital projects will no longer appear on ballot questions during St. Albert's municipal election. The plebiscite is intended to gauge community support for a branch library, arena facility and aquatics facility. On Sept. 5, St. Albert city council voted to change the wording of the questions to ask if voters are in favour of the city proceeding with further planning for each project. The questions will be accompanied by a preamble noting the projects are in the 10-year capital plan. After heated discussion, council split on their decision with a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Nolan Crouse and councillors Wes Brodhead, Cathy Heron, Tim Osborne and Bob Russell voting in favour. Councillors Sheena Hughes and Cam MacKay opposed the change. Crouse relinquished the chair to Heron in order to introduce the motion, which came as an amendment to a motion from updating the numbers on the original questions with new numbers provided by city staff. Those updated numbers included $19.5 million for construction of the library branch, $1.26 million in operating costs and a 2.7 per cent tax increase; $20.5 million for construction of the ice rink, with operating costs of $279,000 and a tax increase of 2.1 per cent; and $13.7 million in construction costs for the aquatics facility, with $310,000 for operating cost and a 1.6 per cent tax increase. All numbers were estimates. Construction costs included an accuracy of plus or minus 50 per cent. During debate on the motion, Crouse said he would have preferred to see a greater amount of detail on the ballot questions, pointing to a question from 2004 about Servus Place as an example. However, he said that level of detail was not available for the current questions. He characterized his motion as more of a "soft" motion than the previous questions. "I struggled a little bit with what to do tonight. That being said, I believe what we need to do is to really ask these questions first," he said. He acknowledged there is a likelihood of his question gaining more "yes" votes than the previous ones. "I accept that," he said. Osborne said his hope was that "good, clear questions" would be on the ballot. Russell said he felt he had to vote in favour of Crouse's amendment because it brought the motion full-circle to one he had proposed earlier in the year. He said he hopes to see the numbers for each project put on the city's website. Hughes and MacKay, who voted against Crouse's amendment, both said they saw the wording change as an inaccurate reflection of the progress the city has already made on planning the projects. Following the decision, Hughes described her reaction to the decision as one of disgust and told the Gazette she sees the revised questions as an effort to manipulate voters into supporting the projects without knowing all the facts. "That, to me, is an affront to democracy," she said. She said the changes put the onus on city staff to educate voters about the numbers through the city's planned information campaign, which has a budget of $10,000. "We've made administration's job a lot harder because now they have to get that information out to people," she said. Crouse said the city still has five weeks to communicate details about the questions to the public. "There is no manipulation," he said in regard to his amendment. "Disagreeing with something doesn't mean it's being manipulated." During the council meeting, Heron said she felt Crouse's amendment would keep city staff from being "pigeonholed" on the projects. "This allows the next council to look at nontraditional builds," she said.

Mixed success for additional amendments

An effort by Coun. Cam MacKay to further amend Crouse's amendment failed with Brodhead, Heron, Crouse and Osborne voting against it. MacKay's amendment would have meant Crouse's changes would not affect the ballot question related to the library branch. Before voting against MacKay's amendment, Crouse said he felt each question on the ballot should be "an equal sister," meaning they should all be framed in the same way. Councillors approved changes to the wording of Crouse's amendment, moved by Hughes, to remove part of the preamble referring to the projects being in preliminary planning stages with costs to be determined.  

April Hudson

About the Author: April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette
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