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At City Hall: St. Albert lands on utilities

At City Hall
stock-St. Albert Place DR020
St. Albert Place FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

No one will be able to compete with the City of St. Albert now when it comes to non-traditional utilities, after city council passed a bylaw Monday giving the city a monopoly.

Council passed second and third reading of its municipal public utilities bylaw, which prohibits any other companies from offering the same, or similar, services the city does unless the city gives permission stating otherwise.

The bylaw could serve as a foundation for when and if city council decides to form a municipal utility corporation.

Only Coun. Sheena Hughes voted against the bylaw.

Hughes said she would not support the bylaw because she is not confident requiring a monopoly signifies the ability to be cost-effective.

“Saying we can only be functional if no one else competes against us ... to me is not an indication of being able to be cost effective, nor does it encourage efficiencies,” she said.

Hughes also said any other business would have to demonstrate their ability to be adaptable and nimble in the face of changing markets, whereas a city facing no competition would not.

Motion to “look outside every box” in dealing with funding gap

Hughes wants the city to look for alternative options for addressing St. Albert's shortfall in capital funding that does not rely on tax increases.

On Monday, Hughes brought forward a motion directing administration to come back by Feb. 28, 2021, with options to deal with an approximate $16-million gap in its repair, maintenance and replacement (RMR) budget.

In June, council agreed to a short-term measure of raising property taxes by a minimum of 1.5 per cent each year for the next three years.

Up until now, the city has relied on grants from other levels of government to cover the funding deficiency, but with provincial municipal sustainability initiative (MSI) funding set to end in 2021-2022 and no replacement in sight, St. Albert is forced to seek alternative options.

Council has already provided administration direction to look at alternatives – which many councillors pointed out – but Hughes said she wanted to have the request down as a council motion to ensure it does not slip through the cracks.

“I’m going to be pushing administration to look outside every box, trying to find a solution for this because just raising taxes in perpetuity is not acceptable,” she said.

Hannah Lawson

About the Author: Hannah Lawson

Hannah Lawson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2019 after working as editor of the Athabasca Advocate. She writes about city hall.
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