Lively debate leads to funding increases for several city projects

It wasn’t how Mayor Greg Dionne thought the 2019 budget deliberations would go, but Prince Albert city council had other plans.

Dionne started the second day of meetings by arguing against a motion from Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha to fund a $16,670 Community Service Centre Special Needs Transportation request. However, it wasn’t long before he made his own motion asking council to reconsider that decision.

The catalyst was a motion from Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp to fund a $25,000 Mann Art Gallery request that Dionne also opposed. Lennox-Zepp argued that properly funding the gallery was was “a quality of life issue” for Prince Albert residents.

The gallery lost its grant funding from a non-government organization because they had received it too many years in a row. The grant helped fund the gallery’s educational outreach programs.

Dionne voted against that decision, but afterwards said he wanted “to be able to sleep at night,” and if the city was going to give the gallery extra funds, they should open the purse strings to other community groups as well.

“That argument, I agree 100 per cent, but it also fits with every other one of these requests,” Dionne said while tapping his budget documents. “They’re all valuable to our community. They all add to the quality of life. They make our community better…. I’m just saying that one thing we have to be is equal and fair. We’re in a tough budget year.”

That decision kicked off a flurry of other funding increases, which helped increase the final property tax rate increase of 3.9 per cent.

The city will also spend $530,000 to replace one pedestrian bridge at Little Red River Park and rebuild another. Originally, the budget only called for one bridge to be built, at a cost of $200,000. That money will come from the city’s Future Infrastructure Reserve.

“I think crossing these two off the list, it gets us into (bridges crossing) the channel, and then it gives us time to maybe look at some other solutions that may or may or not be out there, to come back with a different type of bridge (that may) cost different,” Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski said. “I do think we’re dealing with a bit of a different animal at Little Red and it gets us closer to getting us back into that neighbourhood.”

City council also voted to begin a $100,000 playground replacement program, which will start replacing aging playground equipment around the city. Many councillors said city parks weren’t just about the city’s image. They also felt it could help battle vandalism and petty crime by giving youth a better environment to grow up in.

Not all projects received generous support, however. A total of four motions from Coun. Lennox-Zepp to fund projects such as the Central Avenue Revitalization projects were all voted down.