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Inside Didsbury Entry - Posted: Monday, July 26, 2021, 09:34 am
ltplugin.jpgAt the April 27, 2021 Regular Council Meeting two somewhat related events and resolutions took place. Although they were separate items on the agenda, they were related through the proposed funding means in that both were to be funded by the Economic Development Reserve which, at the time the Capital Budget was approved, was sitting at $75,000. The two events in question are the Community Signage Project and $52,000 for Plugins on the streetlight standards on 20th Avenue. I have delayed writing about this with the hopes that my ire regarding the whole thing would wane but alas, I have only become more irritated.

The $70,000 Community Signage Project was approved at the Regular Council Meeting on February 9 as part of the 2021 Capital Budget. The project encompassed the research, design, and placement of 2 digital signs: one to replace the welcome sign adjacent to Aspen Lodge, the other to be installed downtown at a location yet to be determined. The Community Signage Project came to an end on July 13 by motion of Council to "amend the 2021 Capital Budget by using $10,000 of the Signage Budget from the Economic Development Reserve fund to be put towards the repairing of the Town sign located at the Didsbury Hospital and use the remaining $60,000 of the fund for Road Rehabilitation or if not possible, the remaining $60,000 be used for Economic Development." As it sits currently, the Community Signage Project has no funding allocation on the 2021 Capital Budget. (It should be noted here that road rehabilitation is an operational budget program not funded by reserves and certainly not economic development reserves.)

The $52,000 Plugin project could ultimately be traced back to the initiation of the governance committee structure as the Performance Evaluation Committee (Councillor Baswick, Councillor Engel and Councillor Poggemiller) discussed Christmas lights at their inaugural meeting on January 21, and again in their committee meeting on February 18. It was first introduced to Council as an item brought forward by the Performance Evaluation Committee on April 27 with the recommendation that "Council approve the installation of electrical outlets to the light standards along 20th Avenue as part of the 2021 operating budget for up to $52,000 and that it be funded from the economic development reserve and that the decorating of these light standards be referred back to the Performance Evaluation Committee" but was revised to "be referred back to the Performance Evaluation Committee to further explore other options" (Res #190-21) with at least a portion of the options to be explored being solar powered alternatives.

The next appearance of the $52,000 Plugin project was at the Performance Evaluation Committee April 15 meeting where the committee was provided with estimates that the plugins would cost approximately $13,000 per block and decorations at $5000 to $8000 for a total cost of approximately $20,000 per block. What Christmas lights have to do with the Committee's role of evaluating service levels in Town is a complete mystery to me but be that as it may, as there is the equivalent of 7 blocks east of 20 Street, $20,000 per block equates to the Committee recommending a taxpayer investment of $140,000 for Christmas Lights. If the lighting is to extend the whole length of 20 Avenue (to date no distinction has been provided) then add an additional 3 blocks to the equation and taxpayers are looking at an investment of about $200,000 for Christmas lights.

On June 22 the $52,000 Plugin project was back on Council's table. The motion Council passed at that meeting was to "approve the installation of electrical outlets to the light standards along 20th Avenue for up to $52,000 and that it be funded from the economic development reserve." (Res #322-21). There are a few things to note about this motion.

  1. There is no direction provided as to what portion of 20 Avenue the light standards are to be equipped with these plugins. Since providing plugins on light standards for the full length of 20 Avenue will cost approximately $130,000 only about 40% of the street will be done.
  2. The motion doesn't include allotment for the purchase of any Christmas lights whatsoever, so while 40% of 20 Avenue will be equipped with plugins, there will be no lights to plug in to those plugins for at least a year.
  3. Allocating $52,000 of the $65,000 economic development reserve leaves only $13,000 in the reserve for actual economic development. At a time when the Town was advertising for and anticipating hiring a new Economic Development Officer (EDO), it seems irresponsible to bring the new EDO on with virtually no budget to do actual economic development work.

The motion passed with 2 council members voting opposed to the motion.

There are so many things that could be done for economic development. One also has to wonder why on earth the Performance Evaluation Committee, a committee charged with evaluating service levels in Town, focused their efforts on plugins for Christmas lights when there are far more pressing service level issues facing the Town. More pressing issues like insufficient fire suppression on the east side of the railway tracks, an issue that has been on the books since 2006. Add to that the short-sightedness of opting to move forward with electrical plugins when the rest of the world is moving toward a lower carbon footprint.

While it is the responsibility of every member of Council to align with the will of Council, the majority vote of Council, and in this case the will of Council is to spend $52,000 on plugins for Christmas lights we don't have, I have to accept that there is a probability that this project will move forward. However, if re-elected and this project has yet to be undertaken by November, I pledge that my first independent motion of the new term will be to rescind resolution 322-21 and put an end to this nonsense, return the $52,000 to economic development reserve thereby providing our new EDO with a budget to do actual economic development work.

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