Coming up at City Council: March 9-13, 2015

It’s Committee week again!

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, March 9, 2015

The week begins on Monday with a Community Services Committee meeting scheduled from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are just four reports on the agenda, and one response to an inquiry from Councillor Oshry. Here’s what caught my eye:

Highway Entrance Signs (Councillor Oshry)

Councillor Oshry made an inquiry back in October about the Highway Entrance Signs that you see as you enter the city. He wanted to know what the process was for removing and replacing them, what the options were for determining the design and contents, how such a project might be funded, and what the public engagement process might look like. Here’s what the report says:

  • There are currently seven such signs, which isn’t really that many when you think about it. There are some key entry points that currently lack a sign, such as Highway 28 or St. Albert Trail.
  • The City says there are three basic options for designing new signs: Standard Architectural Proposal Call, Anonymous Open Design Competition, or a Closed Design Competition.
  • As for funding, options include a fundraising campaign like the “Light the Bridge” effort, private funding “through sponsorship or advertising opportunities,” or a standard Capital Budget profile.
  • The City says the signs are functional and not in need of replacement, so any project to replace them would “need to be assessed against other unfunded growth profiles.”
  • Public engagement options run the gamut from online surveys to workshops and interviews.

I would be surprised to see this report go anywhere beyond Committee – I don’t think there’s an appetite to fund such a project.

LEED Silver Exemption for the Varscona Theatre

The Varscona Theatre is being rehabilitated at a cost of $7.5 million. The City’s contribution is $2 million and Policy C532 says that all new buildings and major renovations to City-owned buildings must achieve LEED Silver certification. Exemptions can be made however, where achieving that certification is deemed impractical.

In the case of the Varscona Theatre, which was built as a fire hall in 1957 and converted into a theatre in 1982, building to LEED Silver would increase total project costs by 11-15%. The report states that the project “is still adopting sustainable design and construction practices where feasible.”

Entering Varscona
Photo by Kurt Bauschardt

The reconstructed Capitol Theatre at Fort Edmonton Park was also granted an exemption back in 2011.

Other

Here’s what the other reports are about:

  • Every six months or as directed by Council, the Edmonton Police Commission is required to submit a report of all agreements entered into for expenditures greater than $100,000. There are three such agreements in this report, totaling $660,944, for helicopter parts, 911 dispatch software, and snow removal services.
  • There’s an update on the new Africa Centre and the corresponding strategy for the involvement of the African community. Council has already approved $838,000 for the schematic design for the building. The estimate for the total project budget is $39,808,100, the City’s portion of which will be considered during the 2019-2022 Capital Budget.
  • There’s also an update on the activities of Aksis, Edmonton’s Aboriginal Business and Professional Association. Last year was the organization’s second year of operation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On Tuesday, the next Executive Committee meeting is scheduled to take place from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are eleven reports on the agenda, six of which deal with requests for tax cancellation, deferral, or refunds. Here’s what caught my eye:

Pictometry

Pictometry Canada Corp. provides high-resolution digital imagery of the city through aerial photography. They use fly-bys to create high resolution images of the ground that can be used for many City processes. These images are not unlike what you’d see in a tool like Google Earth, but they are more frequently updated, are higher resolution, and integrate into existing City software.

In 2013, more than 100,000 images were viewed by City staff. That number grew to over 500,000 last year. The City expects usage to grow and is looking to enter into a five-year contract with Pictometry for about $1.1 million.

“Having reviewed several options, Pictometry has proven itself to be the best tool for the City of Edmonton’s purposes. It is the only service provider that is able to integrate its technology directly with other City enterprise priority systems, allowing for seamless interface between them.”

St. Albert, Calgary, Wood Buffalo, and Fort Saskatchewan are some of the other municipalities that use Pictometry.

Impact of the Alberta Wetlands Policy on City Wetlands

The Government of Alberta will be implementing the Alberta Wetland Policy in June 2015, and this report attempts to provide some insight on the impact it will have on City wetlands. About 1,100 hectares of wetlands remain with in Edmonton’s corporate limits, which is 1.6% of the City’s land base. As you might expect, most of those wetlands are in the undeveloped parts of the city.

If an organization wants to do something with wetlands in Edmonton, they currently need to pay a compensation rate of $19,000/hectare. The report notes this isn’t very much:

“When working within a large urban context where property values are higher (in many cases over $300,000/ hectares), it is financially more attractive for most applicants to pay compensation at a rate of $19,000 hectares to fill in a wetland than to protect it.”

The impact of the new policy isn’t fully understood yet. It will increase the area of regulated wetlands in Edmonton from about 600 hectares to 1000 hectares, but the financial impacts “cannot be evaluated until implementation details are released later in 2015.” The City has started a Wetland Task Force to work to understand the potential impacts of the policy.

Delegation of Authoring – Semi Annual Report

Bylaw 12005 requires that the City Manager provide Council with a semi-annual report summarizing all contracts, agreements, settlments, etc. which involved a revenue or expenditure of $100,000 or greater. Tendered agreements of less than $20 million and un-tendered agreements of less than $500,000 can be approved by Administration, otherwise they must be approved by Council.

“For the period of July 1 to December 31, 2014, Administration approved 150 tendered agreements with a total value of $128,865,510 and 1 9 un-tendered agreements with a total value of $3,310,610.”

The report attachment outlines the agreements greater than $100,000 for the reporting period.

Tax Stuff

Four organizations (Edmonton Chevra Kadisha, South Shore Country Club Inc., Habitat for Humanity, and CASA Child Adolescent and Family Mental Health) requested special Council consideration for their taxes to be cancelled, but all four are recommended to be denied. Wellspring Edmonton, which was granted a tax deferral last year, is requesting a further deferral. The recommendation is to approve that, and to bring a new report to Executive Committee in 2016.

Finally, there’s a recommendation to approve tax refunds totalling $74,061.48 as well as any associated penalties. These refunds are for non-profit organizations for the period of time during which their facilities were under construction and not in use.

Other

There’s a report pending on the pedway to the Galleria and Royal Alberta Museum, but it’s not ready yet. It’ll provide an update on the Sole Source Agreement (which basically means there’s one vendor in particular that the City has solicited and negotiated with).

There’s a status update on the Cornerstones Inclusionary Affordable Housing program. “The City has paid, on average, $200,000 per unit using Cornerstones I funds for a total investment of $4.2 million. The market value of this portfolio at the time it was acquired was $4.9 million.” Administration is planning to bring an official policy forward for consideration in the second quarter of 2015.

A bunch of reports have been delayed until March 24, including at least three that deal with the zoning bylaw. An update on the Open City Initiative has also been delayed until March 24.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The next Transportation Committee meeting takes place on Wednesday from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There is one report on the agenda as well as two responses to Councillor inquiries.

ETS Fare Policy Draft Revision – U-Pass

The ETS Fare Policy was last updated in 2013 to increase the U-Pass fare by $7.50 per year for the next four years (ending in 2016). Since then, Council has also adopted a new Multi-year Budgeting Policy (in September 2014). As a result, Administration is bringing forward a revised policy that brings it in line with that new process. But don’t worry, the public will still get a say: “Citizens will be able to provide feedback on a proposed multi-year fare policy as part of the submitted Transit Branch Business Plan.”

Potholes in Back Alleys (Councillor Knack)

Councillor Knack inquired back in October about the process for repairing potholes in back alleys, about the general condition of back alleys, and if there were any plan to address the long-term sustainability of those alleys.

Back Alley
Photo by Bill Burris

The report responds as follows:

  • Repairing potholes in alleys is similar to repairing potholes on other roads, except that it takes longer. As opposed to two working days for arterials and five working days for collector roadways, potholes in alleys are given the lowest priority and are “generally completed in that same construction season” but could be carried over to the following year.
  • “The general condition of the back alley network is poor (Condition D).” The report says that 30% of the total pothole repair budget is spent in back alleys, yet alleys represent just 9% of the total road inventory.
  • The current Neighbourhood Renewal Program “does not include any funding for alleys”.

Streetlight Pole Maintenance & Replacement Program (Councillor Anderson)

Back in September Councillor Anderson made an inquiry about the streetlight pole maintenance and replacement program. Here are the highlights from the response:

  • The City assumed responsibility for the street light system from EPCOR in 1997.
  • Prior to 2004 the City painted street poles, but that practice was discontinued because replacement was more cost effective over the life of the pole.
  • The City currently has approximately 75,000 street light poles, 10% of which are recommended for replacement. The rest are in fair to good condition.
  • The City replaces approximately 1,500 poles per year.

Other

  • Three reports were delayed. Both the report on Scona Road Traffic Safety & Speed Mitigation Strategies and a report on Bike Lanes on Utility Corridors have a revised due date of April 22. The Enhanced Coliseum LRT Station and Pedway to Northlands Expo Centre report has “to be determined” as its due date, presumably to allow the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee recommendation to be considered by the Northlands board first.
  • There’s also a private report: Civic Agencies Recruitment Interviews & Short Listing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Executive Committee is meeting again on Thursday afternoon. There’s just one item on the agenda, and it’s a private report: Civic Agencies Recruitment Interviews & Short Listing.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online.

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