Back in January, Crowsnest Pass council awarded Graham Infrastructure the Frank wastewater treatment plant project. Although the winning bid was the lowest submitted at $23,497,105, the municipal funding totalled only $19,500,000, leaving a budget shortfall of $3,997,105.
Budget shortfalls occur when a financial obligation exceeds the amount of money available and often result from unique or unexpected circumstances. The Frank WWTP shortfall stems from rising material costs and increases to other municipal expenses.
Administration has worked with the municipality’s consultant and sent letters to the province to request financial support, which has reduced the shortfall to $2,614,655.
Council discussed options to address the remaining shortfall during the June 15 council meeting. The pros and cons of entering short- and long-term debts were analyzed, along with applying a fixed fee to municipal utility bills.
With such a big decision to be made, Coun. Lisa Sygutek expressed frustration that more members of the public weren’t engaging with the issue so council could make an informed decision.
“It’s an insult tonight we have three people in the gallery, and 30 people in the gallery last week about a greenspace project,” Coun. Sygutek said.
“However we choose to do this, we have got to make sure we communicate it to the public why we’re doing it,” she continued. “We have three people in the audience who probably understand why we do it, but we have 5,699 people who don’t bother to come to council meetings that aren’t going to have a clue. And I find that really frustrating.”
“At this point I’ve been beaten up so bad by the public that I don’t even know what to do anymore,” she said. “It’s disheartening being a councillor in this community, period.”
Ultimately, council decided to reallocate grants through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative and the Gas Tax Fund. Using the grant money does not affect current or future operating budgets, though it will postpone planned work on roadways and infrastructure.
With the MSI set to decrease 25 per cent over the next three years, a short-term loan may still be needed.
All things considered, reallocating the grant money was the right thing to do, said Coun. Glen Girhiny.
“We’ve stalled this for how long?” he asked. “So let’s bite the bullet and pull it off as soon as we can.”
Coun. Marlene Anctil agreed, adding that the plant has been on the edge of failure the whole eight years she has been on council.
“One of these days it’s going to fail and everybody downstream is going to have a real tough go of it, including the Pass,” she said. “It isn’t something that we can keep putting off year by year. You can only do so many band aids.”
Delaying the project had only increased the costs and left the current council with very few options, said Coun. Dean Ward.
“First time this came to me when I was on council, the budget was less than $10 million. Now that less-than-$10-million has become a $26-million project,” he said. “We don’t have any choice, nobody here had any choice on doing this project. If this place failed, the folks downstream would have a lot more than selenium coming down.”
The next council meeting is Tuesday, July 13, 7 p.m., at the MDM Community Centre in Bellevue. Agenda packages are available online at bit.ly/CNPagenda.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze