County to pass new borrowing bylaw

County of Stettler councillors held a special council meeting on April 20, to determine how to move forward with the county shop project.

County of Stettler councillors gathered at a special council meeting on Wednesday, April 20, to determine how to move forward with the county shop project now that the borrowing bylaw originally intended to fund the project was defeated.

A new borrowing bylaw, if passed all three readings, would see the county dip into Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding in 2016-17 to the tune of $2 million, take $2 million from reserves, and borrow the rest up-front so as to secure a low interest rate. With the amounts secured from reserves and from MSI funding, as well as factoring in cost-savings found by Scott Builders, the company planning the project, the county would need to borrow $5,261,000. The amount would be paid over 30 years.

After tumultuous discussion, the first reading of the bylaw passed 5-2, with Ernie Gendre and Dave Grover voting against.

Diverting MSI funding to pay for the new shop facility was distasteful to almost all councillors, with Greggory Jackson saying the county should just borrow the money — but can’t due to the petition that scuttled the first borrowing bylaw.

“I’m out on using MSI (funding),” councillor Dave Grover said. “I don’t want to rob ourselves. We’re taking (money) out of operating budgets. I just don’t trust the (provincial) government to keep up the level of MSI funding.”

Grover suggested the county continue to use the shop while raising money to fund the new shop, which he agreed is needed. He also suggested the reports about the building’s state were exaggerated.

“It’s not feasible to have to turn off half a building so the other half can function,” Jackson said. He pointed out that the “at-a-glance” study done prior to the current study had found that an at least $1.6 million investment was needed to bring the building up to code, which would be necessary if the county wanted to remedy the electrical issues in the building.

That wasn’t what concerned councillor James Nibourg, who rejected Grover’s wait-and-save plan.

“Now that we know the problems, we are responsible for the people who work in there,” he said, his voice raising to a shout. “The doors open the wrong way! I am not willing to put our people at risk, and that’s what we’re doing by navel gazing.”

Grover and Nibourg traded verbal jabs before Councillor Les Stulberg interrupted.

“(Upgrading the existing shop) is just wasting tax-payer money,” he said. “Not believing the study, that’s your problem.”

Multiple councillors noted that the dollar figure and the tenure of the debenture were daunting numbers, but when put in perspective, the amount needed to cover the cost of the new shop is half of what the county spends annually on recreation funding, or a third of what’s spent on senior housing.

Councillor Joe Gendre, who voted against the original borrowing bylaw, thanked staff for their hard work developing options. He said he was never against the idea of a new shop facility, but instead simply wanted to know exactly where the money would come from. The current options presented to council satisfied him.

Ratepayer displeased with direction of council

Brad Mappin, one of the ratepayers who helped create and distribute the petition that killed the previous borrowing bylaw, voiced his displeasure with the direction taken by council.

“They’re robbing their operating budget to pay for the shop,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that council didn’t allow ratepayers to vote. Council denied people their democratic right” by defeating the bylaw, which prevented the need for a vote.

“It would have been nice to see what the results would have been,” Mappin noted.

He said that he couldn’t comprehend why it was acceptable for council to embark on major capital expenditures when running deficits in their budget.

While he hasn’t started a second petition, he said there’s definitely talk amongst the ratepayers about creating another one.

“Council is not representing the will of the people in this,” Mappin said.