Growth costs money, but some Rocky View residents are not happy about paying the price.
A few residents of Rocky View County (RVC) voiced their concerns about the 2024 draft budget at a recent special meeting of council, expressing their discontent about the extensive list of capital projects included in the 2024 draft capital budget.
RVC’s 2024 draft budget was presented to council for the first time during the Nov. 15 special meeting, followed by a public input session.
Administration said they were one month ahead of the normal budget process, due to a lot of work completed throughout the summer.
RVC council will have an opportunity to add items, subtract items, and potentially approve the budget on Nov. 22.
Recreation project costs debated
Kim Magnuson, a Springbank resident, told council they should re-think the recreation projects included in the capital budget, which she said add up to nearly $20.4 million over just five years.
“I’m asking council to carefully consider whether the municipality needs to plan and build all these new facilities or should we be more strategic and ask residents to drive 20 minutes to the facilities that already exist within the County and in the urban areas?” she told council at the end of her short presentation.
The 2021 Recreation Master Plan identified several capital projects to be built over the next several years, with 11 included in the five-year budget.
Magnuson felt that these projects’ financial impact was enormous, and in the two years since the Master Plan was completed, costs have continued to balloon.
Magnuson was concerned about a duplication of services where residents in west Rocky View might have access to Cochrane, Calgary and Bragg Creek facilities all within a short drive of each other.
With cost-sharing agreements in place with other municipalities, she added, the need for more County-built amenities must be rethought.
“As a rural municipality, why are we chasing down urban facilities?” she asked. “Why are we trying to be all things to all people and why must we spend outrageous amounts of money just so it’s five minutes closer to our homes? This makes no sense to me.”
She then pointed out that the current residential tax for recreation is just under $150 per home.
With a soft levy bylaw, she said it is certain that every single recreation item will still require more in taxes to pay for capital costs.
As an example to the increasing costs, she referred to the South Springbank Community Facilities, which now has a price tag of over $60 million over three phases.
Only phase one is included in the five-year budget at $1.1 million in 2024 and $14 million in 2025, which administration noted is the only phase approved.
County administration explained that the cost of the community facility started between $12 million and $15 million in the 2021 Recreation Master Plan as a one phase project.
Then, admin added, an advisory group put together by council identified the need for an indoor turf field in future years as a second phase and later an outdoor park amenity was suggested as a third phase, explaining the cost increase.
Div. 4 Coun. Samanntha Wright said this information was concerning since other communities could easily add recreation amenities if they had advisory boards.
Administration said phase two of the Springbank project is recommended within ten years, while phase three wouldn’t be addressed until 13 or 15 years down the road.
Fire Services projects questioned
RVC resident Janet Valentine, who spoke on behalf of herself and several other RVC residents in her region, had similar concerns as Magnuson.
She said RVC’s messaging may be misleading residents into expecting urban level services.
The County’s recent Needs Assessments asked residents to rank attractive amenities without the associated costs, which results in what residents want instead of need, she said.
While she felt it important to keep services in line for a low tax environment, she said her main concern was capital projects in recreational facilities and fire halls.
Addressing the fire hall projects, Valentine did not question the need to expand fire services as growth continues across RVC, but felt the planning of those enhancements needed to be systematic and more transparent.
The draft five-year capital budget includes a replacement of the Madden Fire Station in 2025 at $6.5 million, a new Bragg Creek Fire Station in 2026 at $7 million, and a new Conrich Fire Station in 2027 at $6.3 million.
According to Valentine’s research, the three fire halls were initially recommended in the 2018 Fire Master Plan. Valentine said they were never discussed by council or approved.
“I’d always thought that master plans were guiding documents and before initiatives in them got moved into an implementation phase, they needed to come back to council for discussion and direction from council,” she said, adding their inclusion in the five-year budget is premature.
“They are significant investments and should be carefully analyzed.”
To clarify this point, RVC executive director of Corporate Services, Kent Robinson, said administration is not asking for the five-year capital budget to be approved, but only to be accepted as information.
Council will only be asked to approve the capital budget for 2024.
Matt Boscariol, executive director of Community Services, then added that the capital budget includes budget estimates that need to be assessed by administration, and a needs assessment will be done on those projects prior to those items being discussed by council.
Div. 6 Coun. Sunny Samra asked Valentine what she thought about there being a cost to increased development?
Valentine said getting a soft service levy in place is important because new development should pay its share of development, but warned the County on what they are collecting the levy for.
“Once you’re levying for something you’re committed to building something,” she stated. “The question becomes, where and what are the things you should be asking development to pay for?”
Several councillors said they were open to the possibilities of further service agreements with other municipalities to cover fire services in certain areas in the County, and briefly discussed other options to expand fire services.