(File photo)

(File photo)

Ponoka town council gets stuck in ‘quagmire’ over two contentious issues

Council passes borrowing bylaw with two opposed but stalls on residential incentive programs

Tensions seemed to run high during council’s last regular meeting of 2021, with a couple of contentious items up for debate.

Council revisited the proposed $1.7 million Borrowing Bylaw 461-21 for improvements to 51 Ave. downtown on Dec. 14, ultimately passing third reading of the bylaw, although two councillors were opposed.

Mayor Kevin Ferguson stated it was his understanding that council needs to get a borrowing bylaw in place in order to get tenders for the project, however, there seemed to be some confusion on the matter.

‘To me this feels unclear, when it comes to borrowing, from the taxpayers’ perspective,” said Coun. Carla Prediger.

“Why are we approving a bylaw when we really don’t know the borrowing we would be incurring?” Prediger said.

“By not using it, we’ve now false advertised what was originally in the bylaw.”

Coun. Clayton Nelson also questioned the amount.

“I have some concerns about being committed to $1.7 million of borrowing if we don’t intend to use it,” said Nelson.

Nelson said bylaws are public documents, so questioned how the town could get a fair tender price for a project if contractors already know what they are ready to pay.

Prediger noted the project cost estimate almost doubled since the project was first tendered.

“If my recall is correct, council had significant concerns about the amount that was coming back,” she said.

“I just need to see some math, and perhaps a new tendering opportunity.”

Underhill expressed frustration, saying this topic has been discusssed three times already.

Council gave first reading to the bylaw on Nov. 9, 2021.

“I don’t think administration is rushing this through,” said Underhill, adding the issue has to do with the debenture bylaw in the Municipal Government Act and doesn’t have anything to do with the contractor.

Coun. Sandra Lyon stated she agreed with Underhill, as she believes council went through the same issue with a bridge project.

The 51 Ave. project is a redevelopment initiative on 51 Ave. between 50 and 51 streets.

The capital project improvements planned for 51 Ave. will replace aging infrastructure that has reached the end of its lifecycle, according to the town.

The original estimate for the project was $1.5 million, however, due to a change in the “scope of the original design proposal and to meet current construction and engineering costs” the original estimate was increased to $3.2 million.

The first $1.5 million will be covered by a provincial Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant, leaving $1.7 million to be funded.

“Council is required to pass the bylaw, before we are able to move forward,” said Chief administration officer Sandra Lund.

“You are not committed to the spending or the borrowing for that bylaw.”

Aftter 30 days, if there is not a suffiecient pettion received to the Queen’s Bench, the bylaw is considered valid.

“Unitl then, it just means the bylaw is ready, to permit borrowing,” said Lund.

“That would all come back to council for discussion before anything was borrowed.”

Visit the Town of Ponoka’s website for more information about Borrowing Bylaw 461-21.

Residential incentive programs

Council made three motions regarding moving forward with the town’s residential incentive and new business grant programs, designed to draw new residents and businesses to town, only to rescind them later when they couldn’t reach a consensus.

While council agreed the programs were valuable to first time home buyers, the question was how to keep paying for the programs.

‘That’s been a huge deal to a lot of buyers in the past year,” said Coun. Sandra Lyon, who is also a real estate agent.

The programs were funded last year through a development reserve of $100,000 said Lund.

As the program was originally meant as a one-time thing, and council doesn’t want to raise taxes in order to pay for the programs, they are looking at other ways to offer new residents some value, such as recreation passes.

Prediger said administration’s presentation was too confusing with too many budget implications that needed to be discussed.

Mayor Kevin Ferguson stated he supported Prediger, and felt council should table the item and rescind the motions that had already passed.

“We’re in a quagmire here and we need to move on,” said Ferguson.

All three motions were rescinded.

Town of Ponoka