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Anticipating answers

St. Albert taxpayers need to all the implications of some important issues facing council

In just two weeks, Mayor Cathy Heron will give her State of the City address at the Enjoy Centre.

This long-running annual event is typically light on substance and heavy on platitudes. Wednesday, Sept. 11 will provide an opportunity for Heron to change that.

The city faces many challenges, not the least of which is a revenue crunch (the fact that the city’s representatives – both administration and elected officials – hardly ever talk about cost-cutting is a subject for another day). The city faces annual multi-million-dollar shortfalls in its repair, maintenance and replacement (RMR) budget, which covers everything from facilities and vehicles to sidewalk repair and potholes.

St. Albert’s 10-year growth capital plan also faces a shortfall of about $170 million. The city has relied on government grants to help cover RMR shortfalls, but with a tough provincial budget expected this fall, and the unpredictability of grants, there’s fear inside city hall that St. Albert’s revenue problem could be compounded.

Enter the utility corporation to the rescue, or so we’re being told. Heron has a golden opportunity in two weeks to explain exactly how this corporation would work. We know the idea is predicated upon the concept of waste-to-energy, whereby waste could be gasified and turned into energy, which could be sold into the marketplace.

City staff are currently working on a business case for a waste-to-energy facility. There are many questions surrounding this idea, which, if implemented, would make every St. Albert resident a shareholder in the corporation. There are inherent risks with any business venture. How much will it cost to build such a facility? What do the operating costs look like? Is the technology affordable? What kind of volume is needed to make the facility viable? Where would it be built? Who would pay for the waste to get here? What happens if the corporation loses money?

St. Albert is known as The Botanical Arts City. Do residents want their city to be a destination for waste? Furthermore, if a waste-to-energy facility is such a profitable venture, why doesn’t Edmonton have one? Why isn’t the private sector filling the void?

Another issue that will have consequences for St. Albertans is the current annexation negotiations with the county. The annexation will allow St. Albert to map out its growth for the next 50 years. What is imminent, however, are the negotiations around compensation. Will St. Albert be cutting cheques to Sturgeon County? What will the relative financial impact be for taxpayers in St. Albert and Sturgeon County? Will the taxpayers and landowners in the annexed area have the opportunity for input before the dust settles? Will the arterial road connecting Edmonton’s 127 Street with Highway 2 north of Costco fall within St. Albert’s new borders and will there be a cost-sharing agreement with the County to build it?

These are just two important issues council faces in the very near future. Approved, these projects will put taxpayers on the hook for tens of millions of dollars. They deserve to know all the implications of council’s choices before the politicians make their decisions.