St. Albert's funding gap of more than $200 million for future capital projects got a little bigger Monday after city council added another $44 million to the list of projects, including a $4.8-million fire training facility.
The training facility, along with a fire tanker and expansions to LeClair Way and Neil Ross Road, were all brought forward for council’s consideration during Monday’s governance, priorities and finance committee meeting. For the past few months, council has been trying to reduce the number of projects on its 10-year capital plan after finding out there was a massive funding shortfall.
The original dollar amount of that shortfall came to more than $300 million, but council was able to trim that down by approximately $128 million earlier this year. On Monday, in addition to adding the four projects to the list, council also approved a new prioritization tool to better sort out which projects to leave in and which to take out.
Coun. Sheena Hughes reminded everyone on council prior to the vote that they weren’t approving these projects, only adding them to the list.
“This is just to put it on the list for consideration for the priority that we have already approved and for further discussion,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve actually done this. I think it is been interesting. Mayor (Cathy) Heron put forward the motion to do this and I think it is good to have these discussions about these things.”
Of the four projects, the fire training facility received a lot of attention, especially since the city currently doesn’t have one. The positives listed for having a city-owned facility included reducing training costs for St. Albert’s fire department while increasing safety for staff and residents.
Fire chief Bernd Gretzinger said for training to happen, firefighters have to travel to Edmonton off shift.
“To train 20 people off shift for one day, it’s about ... $35,000 for one day,” he said. “If we increase our manpower by 10 people that will go up to probably $45,000 a day. We do that twice a year for everybody. So we could potentially be looking at about half a million dollars a year just retraining for one year at one site.”
Gretzinger explained if the city had their own training facility, fire crews could train during regular shifts with a minimum amount of overtime. He added it would also be cheaper compared to constantly having move city equipment to other locations.
He mentioned the city could also rent out the training facility, which could be a potential revenue stream.
As for the other projects, a $26.3-million extension to LeClair Way West is primarily for improving access to the roadway to help out traffic volumes on Ray Gibbon Drive. This project is expected to be covered entirely by off-site levies and could see some money coming from the province and the City of Edmonton.
A $12.1-million project for Neil Ross Road is also for expanding access, especially in the Erin Ridge and Erin Ridge North neighbourhoods. This is also expected to be covered by off-site levies.
Heron said prior to the new prioritization tool, council was removing projects haphazardly but feels this new approach will allow them to look at the capital projects more thoroughly. While council had already removed millions of dollars worth of projects before the introduction of this new prioritization tool, Heron didn’t feel council should revisit those items that got the axe.
“We had a priority matrix, we’ve just refined it today and made it better,” she added. “I don’t think they would have made the final cut because there’s the priority matrix and then there’s political will. That also comes into play. It was political will that took those projects off.”
Heron added she didn’t believe adding the four new projects would make much of a difference as council continues to look for projects to cut from its capital list.