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Council priorities could face delays due to COVID-19

A number of City of Airdrie priorities, including recreation and transportation initiatives, may be delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a regular meeting May 19, Airdrie City council was told a number of big-ticket items could be impacted and council may need to reapproach how they are delivered.

“We thought it was a good time to check in with council to assess whether the priorities are still a good fit for today’s reality,” said Dorian Kachur, corporate strategy manager. “While a lot of progress has been made towards a number of the priorities, the recurring theme throughout the updates at this time is that there’s a pandemic going on and it’s impacting progress on a number of fronts – not all.”

Beside the pandemic, a recent slump in the oil and gas sector has also impacted council's strategic priorities, Kachur said.

One of council’s main objectives that could be put on the back-burner is expanding community facilities, including a new library and a recreation centre on the west side of the city.

Transportation-related initiatives include the construction of the 40 Avenue interchange and a railroad underpass at Yankee Valley Boulevard, as well as relocating the Balzac weigh scales.

“A number of council’s priorities involve significant costs,” Kachur said. “The City’s projected financial position reflecting the impacts of COVID-19 will be a factor in reassessing affordability and timing.”

Some of council’s other main goals include attracting, retaining and growing local business, revitalizing downtown and increasing affordable housing options.

According to Kachur, the pandemic meant staffing resources for some of the initiatives were reallocated to the City’s emergency operations.

Other priorities, such as the west-side rec centre and expanding and diversifying citizen engagement, have been put on hold because staff has not been able to conduct public consultation.

“It’s simply not deemed to be a good time for that, while people have more difficult priorities on their minds,” she said.

On a positive note, Kachur said, the pandemic has provided an unexpected funding opportunity for the 40 Avenue interchange. She said the City was able to apply for post-pandemic stimulus funding for the project and is currently awaiting word on that application from the Alberta government.

She added the project – as well as other capital projects in Airdrie – would create jobs and help with post-pandemic recovery by stimulating the local economy.

According to Kachur, staff’s recommendation was for council to revisit and reassess the existing initiatives, and modify any – if necessary – to reflect the changed environment.

“The implications of that would be a focus on staying the course for council priorities, acknowledging there will be delays or shifts in progress towards some of them, and recognizing there will be associated costs included in upcoming budgets,” she said.

Mayor Peter Brown and Coun. Tina Petrow were the sole two votes against receiving Kachur's presentation for information.

“I don’t know how we could proceed with absolute uncertainty with any expenditures toward any project,” Brown said. “I’m of the same vein as anyone else. I’m quite concerned about that, but I don’t know how we can go forward without knowing what the future holds for this organization.

“We don’t know anything, really, and it seems to be changing by the hour, if not sooner. I’d rather table it, have a more fulsome conversation and be directing administration to the priorities that the majority of this council believes we can try to fulfill within the [time] we have left in our terms.”

Coun. Candice Kolson said she felt council needs to shelve the big-ticket items for now, acknowledging Airdrie’s economic recovery from the pandemic is going to take some time.

“It’s sending the message out there that these are our priorities, but we have to react to what’s happening right now in the world,” she said.

Coun. Al Jones agreed, adding that reassessing the projects does not mean they will not occur.

“We haven’t lost anything and it’s important the public knows we haven’t taken anything off the table,” he said. “It just won’t be done as quickly as we thought before, because economic recovery will be necessary in order for us to make sure all of this is sustainable.”

Scott Strasser,
Follow me on Twitter @scottstrasser19