The City of Red Deer continues to spend thousands of dollars on a vacant building as they wait for word from the Province regarding a new courthouse.
That waiting period comes with a $77,000 annual price tag.
City council recently approved the expenditure again in the 2016 operating budget.
The funds will be used for the upkeep of the former RCMP detachment located on 49th St., which is slated to become the City’s new courthouse.
“During the operating budget deliberations, council had substantial discussions surrounding the operating and maintenance costs of the former RCMP building,” said Veer. “Ultimately we have carrying costs, unfortunately, of $77,000 per year total – and that was after we made some reductions on the carrying costs of that building.
“Council had considerable discussion around our frustration with the fact that we have yet to receive a decision with respect to the provincial government securing the site as the site for the next provincial courthouse.
The challenge council is faced with right now is that essentially the City has been mothballing the building for the past few years since the RCMP moved to their new location.”
Veer said not only does the City have the carrying costs that go with the upkeep of the former RCMP detachment, but the land the building is on is prime, developable land in the City’s downtown core.
“Years ago the City began discussions with the provincial government, recognizing that with the closure of some of the regional courts that not only had the Red Deer courthouse reached capacity because of our growing population, it has completely reached capacity because we are serving the regional population of upwards of 320,000 to 350,000,” she added.
“The City and the provincial government, in recognition of this fact, began discussions about expanding the existing Red Deer courthouse, which for reasons identified by the Ministry of Justice and Infrastructure, expansion on the existing site was a non-starter.
“Then negotiations began moving into land acquisition. The former RCMP building site was identified as the prime location from the provincial perspective for a number of reasons. First because it’s serving not only Red Deer, but the region as well, downtown Red Deer was identified as the ideal location because it’s the centre of all of the service area.
“Also from a logistical perspective, it’s really the only land mass that is in close proximity to the Red Deer Remand Centre. There already is the existing parkade that has parking capacity next to it.”
Veer added one option that has been discussed in the past is to demolish the current building.
“We could have moved towards demolition of the building in recognition of the fact that the province will build the next Red Deer regional courthouse there.
“Having said that, those demolition costs are upwards of $1 million and it was thought those funds are not good value for the taxpayer in the sense that if the province moves to construction, the hole where it was vacated would just have to be dug up again,” she said.
“In trying to be financially efficient, we’ve been carrying this awaiting decision from the province.”
Before last year’s provincial election, Veer said significant progress had been made with the Conservative government in terms of moving forward with the issue.
“A week before the new provincial government was elected, we were at the one-yard line. The minister of justice had called to indicate that while they couldn’t give an answer on the capital, the City’s request for a decision on the land was reasonable and was being processed. At that point we felt like we had made progress,” said Veer.
“Having said that, the new government came in, and with all due respect we needed to give them time to familiarize with files throughout the province.
“They have been responsive – Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley has made herself available to me,” she added.
“I have met with her on a few occasions and we’ve submitted formal correspondence to her and we remain in regular contact over the telephone.
“Our submission to the minister of justice and solicitor general has been the same request, saying that we recognize the financial capital challenges that the province is faced with and while we are very strong in our position that we need those justice outcomes for Red Deer and region, while we’re in the recession, we at least need to bring a resolution to the negotiations around the land and securing that site for the provincial government.”
In a statement sent to the Express, Ganley stated, “We are aware of the capacity pressures within the Red Deer courthouse. Renovations are underway to address the current short-term needs of the facility. We are reviewing the need for new courthouse construction, but a final decision has not been made.
“The project will be evaluated alongside other critical infrastructure projects such as schools and hospitals.
“Our government is committed to ensuring Albertans have access to justice, and that includes access to court facilities.”
Meanwhile, Veer said as the City continues to be in limbo with regards to the former RCMP detachment site, frustration around the council table, as well as with City administration and residents continues to grow.
“There is a very strong consensus that whenever you have any financial cost associated with a vacant building, there is strong sentiment that it is throwing good money after bad,” she said. “I think there is recognition across the board that it’s an unfortunate reality because we do not want to compromise on the bigger vision and need for our community which is securing the courthouse for that site.”
Moving forward, Veer said she hopes to have resolution to this issue before the end of the year.
“We’ve been working proactively with the provincial government since they were sworn in last May and my hope is to contact Minister Ganley again in person following the tenure of our council deliberations and my hope would be that we would have resolution before our next budget deliberations.”
In addition, phone messages left for both NDP MLA South Barb Miller and NDP MLA North Kim Schreiner were not returned by press time.