Iveson calls for shared re­gional recre­ation costs

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - PAIGE PAR­SONS ppar­[email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/paigeepar­sons

De­bate over fund­ing improvements to the city zoo on Fri­day cul­mi­nated in Mayor Don Iveson call­ing on tax­pay­ers in neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties to pitch in on the cost of Ed­mon­ton’s tourism and recre­ation fa­cil­i­ties.

Re­gional lead­ers al­ready know this re­quest is com­ing. In fact, Iveson said at a re­cent meet­ing that St. Al­bert Mayor Cathy Heron sug­gested Ed­mon­ton should be send­ing a bill to neigh­bours for attractions like Fort Ed­mon­ton Park, Telus World of Sci­ence and the Ed­mon­ton Val­ley Zoo.

Coun­cil also voted to ask re­gional lead­ers to con­sider con­tri­bu­tions for the Lewis Farms recre­ation cen­tre and li­brary. That vote hap­pened Thurs­day.

This new kind of co-op­er­a­tion is now ex­pected across the prov­ince, said Iveson.

Re­cent changes to the Al­berta Mu­nic­i­pal Gov­ern­ment Act gave mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and coun­ties two years to make co-op­er­a­tion and cost-shar­ing agree­ments on ev­ery­thing from sew­ers to recre­ation cen­tres. Ed­mon­ton is still work­ing on those with its neigh­bours.

Iveson said he wants to put “ev­ery sin­gle thing” that ben­e­fits recre­ation and tourism be­yond the bor­ders of Ed­mon­ton on the ta­ble for pos­si­ble shared fund­ing.

He said the city will have to go out and gather data to make the case that “taxes should be higher in St. Al­bert and Strath­cona County and Le­duc and Beau­mont be­cause the free ride is over.”

Coun­cil was de­bat­ing a mo­tion to use tax­payer-sup­ported debt to fund much of the $39-mil­lion cost of build­ing the sec­ond phase of the zoo’s Na­tures Wild Back­yard.

Ward. 5 Coun. Sarah Hamilton pro­posed the amend­ment.

“De­lay­ing this pro­ject in­def­i­nitely would put the zoo in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion,” Hamilton said. With­out the money, the zoo will be un­able to fin­ish key util­i­ties work for parts of the zoo that are al­ready

com­pleted and rely on tem­po­rary util­i­ties, she said. No fund­ing would also leave some zoo an­i­mals liv­ing in en­clo­sures that were set up only for tem­po­rary use, and it might mean some an­i­mals will be sent away to other fa­cil­i­ties.

Presently, the zoo’s prairie dogs re­side in Cal­gary and won’t be able to re­turn un­til they have an up­dated en­clo­sure. In­creas­ing stan­dards mean that habi­tats for the zoo’s pri­mates, meerkats, capy­bara, wal­laby, bur­row­ing owl and red fox all re­quire up­dates.

Hamilton said that pre­vi­ous zoo projects have been on time and on bud­get, and also noted that zoo at­ten­dance has in­creased by 80 per cent since 2011.

But coun­cil also heard that only about 10 per cent of the vis­i­tors to the zoo are com­ing from out­side the city lim­its.

Still, even if it’s a small piece of fund­ing, it’s worth ex­plor­ing, ar­gued Iveson and Ward 10 Coun. Michael Wal­ters, who brought for­ward a mo­tion that coun­cil passed to hold off un­til re­gional cost shar­ing could be ex­plored.

The re­port is ex­pected to come back to coun­cil in the fall of 2019.

Coun­cil be­gan de­lib­er­at­ing spend­ing for the next four years in late Novem­ber and is ex­pected to sign off on plans for city build­ing, re­newal and day-to-day ser­vices by Dec. 14.

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