Cost of keeping old facilities running weighed against cost of new facilities

Discussions over plans for the new County of Stettler offices and workshop dominated the county council's Wednesday, Dec. 12 meeting.

Discussions over plans for the new County of Stettler offices and workshop dominated the county council’s Wednesday, Dec. 12 meeting, though final decisions were delayed until January at the request of absent councillor Ernie Gendre.

Gendre, who wrote in ahead of his absence to explain a medical emergency had prevented him from coming, was revealed to be going into surgery for an unspecified ailment, as reported by councillor Joe Gendre. After a brief discussion, council voted to delay decisions about the new county property until January so Ernie Gendre could be present.

The county quietly purchased land earlier this year with an eye to building a new county facility, as the current county facility is at capacity, with projected growth anticipated. The facilities are also older, with the workshop nearing five decades, and the administration building nearing three.

Troubles facing the administration building include lack of office space for current staff members, let alone projected growth, council chambers too small to accommodate more than a small audience, not enough meeting rooms, washroom capacity, and deficient cabling for both electrical and Internet. The old shop facility is old and not expandable, with several issues with its bays — not large enough, doors not wide or tall enough, wash bay too small, not enough bays, no drive-through bays — and storage issues.

The county heard a presentation from Will Woodward and Brad Quintilio, from Scott Builders, who went over the plans for the new administration building and workshop, but council was divided on how to proceed — all at once or in phases. The cost of the new building, originally estimated between $11 million and $14 million, doesn’t include the profits upon the sale of the old county building and property.

Council heard about additional troubles plaguing the workshop, troubles that must be fixed if staff is going to continue to work there. If staff will be moving into new facilities in the near future, those fixes can be patches — but if the building of the new facilities are going to be delayed, more investigation into the problems and potentially more expensive fixes will be necessary, Rick Green, director of engineering, said.

How ratepayers felt about the costs involved continued to be a theme in discussion, with some councillors leery of tackling the project all at once, being more inclined towards delaying the project or going in phases, while others said building now would be the best use of money.

CAO Tim Fox pointed out that with interest rates right now, borrowing is very feasible and attractive, as is the state of the industry. With the economic slump, there’s more competition for the few proposals that come up, meaning the county could likely receive more competitive bids if they went for the process now.

Expensive repairs to the half-a-century-old workshop seemed like it would be “chasing bad money with good,” councillor James Nibourg said, noting that continually patching the aging facility would be a consistent drain on the taxpayers’ wallet.

“Not spending money is not saving money,” councillor Les Stulburg noted, saying that while County has healthy reserves, it doesn’t do the county any good if it can’t be used for projects like this.

The county has two options for funding, one which is borrowing, or one which is a mix of reserves and borrowing, with the latter project coming in at an estimated $11.5 million, and the former $14 million.

Decisions about the facility were in the end delayed until January.

Budget meetings beginThe county held its first budget presentations on Monday, Dec. 15, going through purchases and budgets with an eye to eliminating a near-million deficit. No one from the public attended the open meeting.

Council heard that the fire department is down from 12 volunteers to eight, with fire chief Mark Dennis saying that he expected it would be tough to recruit new members due to the economy. He hoped, however, by promoting their training program, they can interest some new blood. Recreation funding was also eyeballed, with some discussion about revamping its funding method in the coming year.

Council also was told that some of its reserves should be used up, though all departments have been tasked with cutting costs.

Cost of Living AdjustmentsCounty was split on whether or not to adjust employee wages to factor in cost-of-living, with the motion being defeated 4-2. In the end, the dissenting voice had the vote because they felt it wasn’t appropriate to raise wages, which in turn would down the line either raise taxes or take money away from other projects, and that wouldn’t be fair to tax payers in the current economic climate.

County photo contest winnersThe winners for this year’s photo contest were announced at council, with the calendar in which the photos are featured also debuting. To celebrate the county’s 60th anniversary, the calendar was in black and white. Each winner received a Heart of Stettler gift certificate and a framed print of their winning photo, with the first place winner receiving a larger photo and an iPad.

WinnersMarlaine Duncan – JanuarySandy Clark – February, OctoberLynne Snodgrass – MarchMariefe Corado – AprilFaith Shuckburgh – MayGlenn Munden – June and AugustAlice Visscher – JulyAmanda Holden – SeptemberAvery Chick – NovemberShauna Klassen – DecemberAlma or Ray Keen – CoverTheresa Tanner – Honourable MentionDarlene Tanner – Honourable Mention

Note: The version of this story appearing in the paper incorrectly said the cost of living adjustment was defeated 4-3. This has been corrected to read 4-2. We regret the error.