Ongoing discussions over a ward system

A plebiscite on the issue of a ward system in the City of Red Deer, was included in the municipal vote in October 2013. It was defeated at a ratio of 2-1 in favor of the current system.

One major catalyst, and for many the greatest reason, for advocating for the ward system was the perceived obscene amount of money being spent downtown.

With the defeat in 2013, it was thought that the issue would remain dormant until the municipal election in 2021, when another plebiscite would be held.

News articles about demolishing and building a new pool, building a concert hall, expensive road and utility work, pedestrian bridge and another water feature in Riverlands has created an accelerated timeline for another plebiscite, or an out-right call for the ward system.

People remember the over-budget costs of the Sorenson Station.

The over-budget costs of the Ross Street patio. The over-budget costs of relocating the public yard.

The costs of servicing the Riverlands, the roads, the utilities, and other preparatory work were higher than anyone originally thought. The costs in just a few years totaled over $250 million, and the Riverlands is just a dirt parking lot for heavy equipment, and there are still demands for more.

There is a budget of $21.6 million for a new arena, but I think there is another budget for demolishing the old arena, and if the Sorenson Station is the precedent in budgeting then you can guess that $45 million could be the final costs.

There is a call for a new Aquatic Centre in the City centre with a 2013 budget of $75 million +/- 20%, and if it was built now it would $84 million +/- 20% or $100 million but it will not be built this year it will be built later.

Again the demolition budget is separate, and the upgrades are extra. Again using the Sorenson Station as a precedent then it would not be unreasonable to expect the costs to reach $150 million when completed.

Many would argue that instead of demolishing a perfectly good pool to build a bigger pool, why not use the construction of an Aquatic Centre as a catalyst for development, somewhat like how the Collicutt Centre helped expedite the development of Red Deer’s southeast quadrant?

The Collicutt Centre is used by 60% of the population so a similar building incorporating a 50m pool could be a huge catalyst.

Building the Aquatic Centre in the northeast, perhaps north of Hwy. 11A around Hazlett Lake would encourage growth and development that could compete with the far superior number of new builds in Blackfalds.

Perhaps the new Abbey Recreation Centre might have been the catalyst that saw their residential building permits in Blackfalds surpass Red Deer – a city 10 times their size?

The City’s downtown is also advocating for a Concert Hall, separate from the college. The cost has been said to be in the $90-100 million range.

Again remembering previous builds we could be talking over $120 million, for our very own Grand Ole Opry.

We are talking about in excess of $300 million in total new downtown spending, but add in upgrades like green roofs, and upgraded amenities, windows, exterior cladding and we are talking about $400-500 million before the political entities get involved.

A half billion dollars being spent downtown on top of $200 million plus that has been spent to get to this point and you start to see the words ‘ward system’ popping up again.

The next municipal election is two years away, and this council has time to prove themselves, fiscally responsible, but if not do not be surprised if a grassroots movement takes shape demanding a ward system.

Not a plebiscite on the ward system but the creation of the ward system.

If 10% of the people sign a petition demanding a ward system style before 2017, (and not, as in 2013, ask for just a plebiscite) then it would most likely be incumbent of this council to proceed in that direction.

A year before the last election I thought it unlikely there would be enough support for a plebiscite, but six months later there a big surge of support for the plebiscite.

Again the main issue for groundswell of support was the downtown spending, issue. Many hope that under a ward system councillors may be more willing to listen, may actually understand the issues affecting homeowners and not just downtown business and landowners.

Why should we all pay so that a few can profit?

A ward system may mean more equitable spending, perhaps a level playing field, but at least it would make councillors appear to be more accountable.

Perhaps just the idea of a ward system will be enough? It may be.

Garfield Marks

Red Deer