Council, staff continue budget talks with focus on industrial lands

Mayor and council continued to debate the future of the industrial lands formerly owned by Tembec during budget discussions on Wednesday at city hall.

The conversations between elected officials and staff will be used to shape budget priorities ahead of the adoption of a five-year plan later this year.

Looking ahead to next year, $2.5 million is being earmarked for deep utility services — water and sewer — on the industrial property, while an $8.8 million long-term plan for property development presented at a previous budget meeting was shelved.

READ: Council, city staff debate future plans for former Tembec property

However, staff proposed, with a general consensus from council, to add $2.75 million to be used for shallow utilities, such as roads and hydro —initially for 2021, but moved up to 2020 after discussions.

The $2.5 million set for deep utility services in the industrial lands area will come out of a myriad of reserve and surplus funds, including a hefty chunk of funding raised from the one per cent dedicated road tax, according to the city’s finance department.

Councillor Norma Blissett noted her concern that revenue collected from the dedicated road tax was being used for an industrial project rather than for roads that would be regularly used by citizens.

However, Mayor Lee Pratt stressed the importance of moving forward on the industrial lands project, suggesting that Cranbrook potentially missed out on a $40 million investment Komatsu recently made in Sparwood. The mayor told council that the city had been in discussions with a site selection company looking for 15 acres of property for a client willing to spend up to $50 million.

“If we don’t do something with this property and get it developed, we’re going to lose those opportunities so I think it’s key that we have to do it,” said Pratt.

Councillor Ron Popoff asked how quickly deep utility infrastructure could be installed if it was approved for 2020. Mike Matejka, the city’s manager of infrastructure planning and delivery, noted that there are still unsettled questions, such as the desired land use of certain sections of the property.

“If there’s going to be uses on that land that requires a lot of water or sewer capacity, then that does potentially impact the detailed design that we’ve put together,” Matejka said, “or we can over-design such to accommodate those land uses if we don’t know what’s going to be happening.”

If those questions were answered, Matejka estimated that tenders could be issued in the spring with construction completion by late summer.

While council had balked at an earlier proposal to spend $8.8 million for shallow utilities, that number was pared down to $2.75 million, which will be borrowed from the Moir Park Development Reserve — a fund projected to reach $3.7 million by the end of December. Staff proposes to repay that back through revenue raised from the one per cent dedicated road tax over a five-year term, starting in 2023.

However, Pratt also teased that the $2.75 million might not have to be an issue for city finances.

“I got a call on the weekend from somebody interested in putting up the $2.75 million, so we’re working out now how we can make that happen,” Pratt said, noting that a decision to move forward should be made by his contact next week.

Blissett noted her opposition to moving forward on earmarking $2.75 million for shallow utilities unless there is an agreement in place with a company which has specifically identified their design needs.

“I don’t want to do that on speculation at this point,” Blissett said.

City staff also suggested that any spending of the $2.75 million for shallow utilities includes caveats that council is briefed with project details before approving or denying specific spend requests.

“This approach, at least we approve the funding, then project approval as council — that gives me a really good comfort as to how me move forward, so I’m more inclined to support that,” said Councillor Wayne Price.

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