Okotoks Arts and Learning Campus
Who are the Okotoks Ratepayers Association?
The Okotoks Ratepayers Association (or ORA) is a group of Okotokians that have registered a non-profit society with the following objectives:
- To foster awareness and discussion on the use of public funds, resources, and property
- To encourage and facilitate involvement of the ratepayers with our local government, and
- To advocate for transparency, responsibility, and accountability of our government.
ORA currently consists of 10 board members and a Facebook group of 700+ members. We are finalizing the process for donations and memberships and will release those details when they are ready.
ORA has attended nearly every council meeting in the last year, volunteered for Town Committees, and had discussions directly with Councillors and town staff.
ORA has had sit down meetings with CAO Elaine Vincent regarding our tax structure and revenue sources to clarify the Town’s budget and how it operates. CAO Vincent has been very generous with her time and has communicated to us clearly and fairly, and we thank her for that.
The ORA’s objective is not to stop every project but instead is to help ensure that Residents are aware and understand what our local government and elected representatives are doing.
So why are we engaged on the Arts and Learning Campus Project?
Advocate for transparency, responsibility, and accountability
The Okotoks Ratepayers Association has been paying attention to this project for a long time, however detailed information has been hard to come by. We understand the project was following an Integrated Development Plan which intends to involve stakeholders from the beginning for a faster and more economical process. However, the major stakeholders, the Residents, have been left out of the process.
ORA attended both information sessions, attended council meetings, and waded through council agendas for the last two years in order to engage with the project. We saw it start as a proposed Library expansion in 2018, which was scheduled in the approved 2019 Capital budget for 2024. We saw the proposed designs provided to Council early in 2019, none of which conveyed a 3-storey building on the park.
Attendance at the public information sessions was low, which would suggest that inadequate advertising or notice was given to residents. Public engagements should not be considered as complete if attendance is inadequate to represent a statistically relevant sample.
Many residents have stated in conversation and through Facebook that they support the idea of an expanded Library and Performing Arts Centre but had no idea that one or both would be in the Flood Fringe nor in Ethel Tucker Park.
Given the location and importance of Ethel Tucker Park, it being the only major downtown Park and gateway to the Sheep River pathways, more communication should have been provided to Residents.
Respectful ongoing dialogue with the largest stakeholder, the citizens, would have allowed for meaningful input. Detailed and specific presentations would have allowed a true consultation and given a greater understanding of the impact on the park and their town.
Use of Public Funds, Resources and Property
George Brookman, past president of the Calgary Stampede, made a comment this week on AM770 on the Danielle Smith show, which helps illustrate our concerns. We are all in a state of LUMU – Living Under Maximum Uncertainty. We have no idea how long the Pandemic will last or if it will come back in another wave. The amount of economic impact is incomparably dire and time to recover is completely unknown. As a result, businesses and citizens are all having to scrap their best laid plans and re-evaluate due to the changes that have occurred. We have no idea what conditions we will be living with 6 or 12 months from now. A Harvard study published Tuesday April 14 suggests we may see social distancing and lockdowns through 2022.
Will people want to avoid public facilities for fear of infection? Will our Main street be a ghost town due to the impact on small businesses? If so, the need for this facility and its projected economic benefit to our downtown could be overstated. If we are living in a world where social distancing becomes more of a permanent way of life, that could change the nature of programming and service delivery for libraries.
If we have a huge commercial vacancy rate downtown, then adding more square footage by emptying the currently occupied buildings could be detrimental to the local commercial real estate market. Considering that most of Downtown’s businesses are independent small businesses, the vacancy rate after the Pandemic could be extremely high. According to the CFIB, as of April 15th, a survey of Canadian small business shows the following:
- Only 20% of small businesses are fully open, 30% do not have cash flow to pay April bills and 39% are worried about permanent closure.
- 32% of those who have had to close are unsure if they will be able to reopen.
- 25% say they can survive less than a month under current conditions.
- 86% believe the government should make emergency money available to businesses that have been hard hit by COVID-19 to cover their fixed costs.
- 56% said they have no more capacity to take on debt during this emergency
- The average cost of COVID-19 on small business so far is $214,915.
Depending on the length of the Pandemic, businesses and residents may need significantly more help with utilities, taxes, affordable housing, and more. As such, the Town should be conserving cash and capital to help with this crisis.
The expansion to the library was originally slated to be a capital project in 2024, so it is not an immediate, critical need in our town. Capital resources in this time of crisis should be directed to critical infrastructure. The Government of Canada identifies 10 sectors as critical infrastructure and they are as follows: Health, Food, Finance, Water, Information and Communication Technology, Safety, Energy and Utilities, Manufacturing, Government, and Transportation. Since the ALC build is not part of that list it should be paused until the nature of our world post-Covid-19 can be more accurately assessed.
We are in unprecedented times right now due to Covid-19 and the economic impact and uncertainty demand a pause and rethink on this project as it is not critical infrastructure.
Council will be holding a public hearing regarding the development permit application on Monday, April 27th at 7:00pm. Due to Covid-19, the public will not be allowed at the meeting but can watch via livestream at https://www.okotoks.ca/municipal-government/mayorcouncil/council-meetings-agendas. Anyone wishing to make a 5-minute oral submission during the hearing via teleconference must contact Development Services at email@example.com or Legislative Services at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Friday. If you would like to make a written submission, email to the same addresses before Wednesday April 22 and Noon.
For more information on the project, here is the Town landing page for the project: https://www.okotoks.ca/municipal-government/public-participation/okotoks-arts-and-learning-campus
Please email the Town if you have any input for or against this project.