Ross Guffei

In this article, Ross covers key topics relating to monetary issues in St. Albert.

Administration has advanced the proposition that St. Albert has a potential $16,000,000 on going annual shortfall for the Repair, Maintenance, and Rebuilding budget (RMR).  Based on this issue, administration has been proposing St. Albert look for alternative revenue sources.  The Solar Farm and Municipal Energy Corporation (MEC) are two sources of alternative revenue.  Administration wants to borrow up to $33,000,000 for the Solar Farm and up to $100,000,000 for the MEC.  There has been minimal transparency regarding the ability of these two entities to generate revenue.  Administration is asking the taxpayers of St. Albert to take all the risk with no guarantees of return on their money. 

I believe that we should look in more detail at the preposition that a revenue shortfall exists.  Evidence indicates that St. Albert does not have a revenue shortfall but rather we have a substantial spending problem.  Below are numerous examples of why I believe we need to look more closely at how our tax dollars are being spent and hold Administration accountable for their actions.

  1. Peron Street has been rebuilt 3 times in recent history.  The first time, angle parking was introduced on Peron Street.  After major objections by the residents and businesses, the parking pattern was returned to the original parallel parking design.  That was change number two.  This year, without prior consultation with the local businesses once again a major road reconstruction project occurred on Peron Street.  Centre medians were added, paving stone crosswalks were removed, and a variety of other changes occurred.  The first and last projects were never approved by Council, Administration undertook these projects of their own initiative and without any consultation with local businesses.  Were they necessary?  I believe they were not. 

 

  1. Bump outs are being built all over St. Albert.  They are being justified on the premise of safety, but I believe that they pose a safety concern, are ill conceived and poorly designed, and administration did not consider the consequences of these bump outs with regard to visibility and snow removal.  The City has evolved the bump outs from standard concrete construction to red coloured concrete construction and now they are adding posts with fluorescent strips to make them more visible.   If safety was the issue, I believe that the cross walks would have been safer by installing the flashing lights that pedestrians could activate when they decide to cross the street.  The lights are substantially more visible and alert the drivers to the presence of pedestrians.  The flashing lights eliminate the snow removal concerns as well.   These bump outs initially cost about $40,000 per intersection.  This is a huge amount for an ill-conceived design.   In addition, the bump outs were never approved by Council.  Administration took the funds from three separate budgets including Safe Journeys to Schools. Sidewalk Improvements and another unknown budget, without Council’s knowledge.

 

  1. Traffic circles are appearing at numerous locations in St. Albert.  This is a prime example of a decision that was never approved by Council.  Administration is adding funds to their budgets without indicating the purpose of those funds and then proceeding to build the traffic circles.  Traffic circles are very useful in specific applications; however I do not believe that any of those applications exist in St. Albert.  Administration is using traffic circles to rectify traffic problems that have been created because of poor traffic planning, thus just compounding the issue by installing an inappropriate solution. In one case, at the intersection of Ebony and Coal Mine Rd, the installation of the traffic circle totally escapes logic.  It was installed about 3 years ago, but Coal Mine Rd has been closed for construction for the last two years.  So what was the purpose of this traffic circle.  Surely administration knew when they built it, that Coal Mine Rd was going to be non-functional or is this a situation where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing?  How much of taxpayers’ money have we waisted on these circles and how many more circles does Administration have planned?

 

  1. The construction project on St. Albert Trail North by Walmart is a fascinating example of what is wrong with St. Albert’s spending habits.  I understood that Council approved the construction of 1 new lane for the purposes of reducing traffic congestion in this area.  However, it appears that the City is building 3 new lanes and removing 2 perfectly good lanes.  Inquiring as to the exact nature of the construction project, the City replied that they were building 1 new lane and realigning 2 existing lanes.  When I asked for clarification of this statement by pointing out that it appears we were building 3 new lanes and removing 2 good lanes, I was told that Administration would no longer answer any more of my questions regarding this project.  So what are they hiding?  I later discovered, from one of the male Councillors, that the purpose of the realignment of St. Albert Trail is to accommodate the future LRT.  However the LRT has not been approved and may never be built.  These were the Councillors own words.  (I have texts of the discussion with the Councillor).  Why are we spending taxpayers’ money to accommodate a project that has never been approved?  The budget for this project is between $22,000,000 and $25,000,000.  If Administration had only added one lane, as they indicated to Council when they asked for their funding approval, then the budget may have been as low as $7,000,000.  This is a perfect example of how money is being wasted without councils’ knowledge.  Having stated that Council was unaware of the details of this project does not relieve Council of their fiduciary duty.  In my opinion, this last Council has completely failed in their duties to the existing taxpayers.

 

  1. St. Albert has just completed the construction of the new Park and Ride off 156th Street.  This project initially consisted of 500 paved parking stalls and 300 gravel parking stalls.  The budget approved by Council was between $22,000,000 and $25,000,000.  Upon hearing about this project, I contacted my brother who is in charge of maintenance for Superstores in Western Canada.  I asked him who they use to pave their parking lots.  He gave the name (it was a large reputable company that I don’t want to name).  I contacted the company in Calgary.  I explained who I was and asked if they could provide an estimate to construct the park and ride, the terms of reference included strip the site of organic material, grade, install and compact gravel, install asphalt to accommodate busses and semi trailers, paint lines and grass the site for 800 parking stalls.  I did not include the building, medians that were built or the trees.  I received an email back indicating that they would complete the project for $8,000,000.  Due to the incomplete terms of reference lets add 50% to their estimate.  This Project could have potentially been built, if it was being done by the private sector, for $12,000,000 or half of what the City spent.  All this does is raise huge questions about how taxpayers’ money is being spent.

 

  1. Let’s discuss the newly completed Bellrose and Boudreau intersection.  I don’t know the budget for this project, but I do know that there was a potential for massive amounts of savings.  When the project first started, I thought the contractor was installing a double right hand turning lane adjacent to the police station.  But they only installed a single lane and completely redesigned the median at the turning lane, which I found peculiar.  They redesigned the medians at all four corners.  I contacted the City to enquire why the change in the turning lane median.  I was informed that the new medians are smart medians while the old ones were not.  I don’t understand what a smart median is (Does it have a computer chip that helps it function better?), but I do know that upon observing the way cars negotiated the new turning lane, as opposed to watching cars at older intersections without smart medians, I have not been able to distinguish the difference in the traffic patterns.  (Maybe the City hasn’t activated the smart chips in the medians yet, maybe they are waiting for 5G?)  My conclusion is that the Taxpayer spent a lot of money with no apparent benefit.  The renovations to this intersection were not for the purposes of accommodating the newly approved high-density development on Boudreau, the construction was only to address safety concerns.  The Transportation department acknowledged that these improvements might slow the movement of traffic at this intersection.  Once the high density developed is built this intersection will require a major reconstruction to accommodate all that additional volume.  Is this another Peron Street where we can’t get it right the first time, so we redo it multiple times and the taxpayer just keeps giving and giving?

 

  1. I live in Oakmont.  Two years ago, the City decided to install a micro surface on Oakridge Drive South as a method of extending the life of the existing asphalt for a further 5 years and thus saving the Taxpayer some money.  I was informed of this by the Transportation Department, and I thought it was great that we saved money.  This year, just 2 years later the City removed the top 3” of asphalt from Oakridge Drive South and replaced it with a new layer of asphalt.  Upon seeing this, I phoned the Transportation Department for an explanation.  What happened to the 5 years?  I was informed that the micro layer had been in place for 4 years and that it had served its purpose.  (I guess I am getting old because I am sure the time frame was only 2 years and many of my neighbours confirmed the 2-year time frame.)  Regardless, I asked about the warranty of 5 years for the original micro surfacing.  The only answer was silence.  Evidently, the minute the City redid the asphalt the warranty was void.  As well, if I am correct about the 2 years, the City had to have started budgeting for the replacement asphalt immediately after the micro surfacing had been complete.  Nothing gets done quickly at the City.

 

  1. The next 2 examples are not related to road construction but do indicate items of concern.  The City decided to erect the Jet next to the Legion after the original stand was damaged by an unidentified vehicle.  This project consists of 4 basic elements and is a perfect example of lack of accountability of spending of taxpayer funds.  The four components are engineering design and construction supervision, drilling a pile, filling it with reinforced concrete and bolts to attach the post, a post to hold up the airplane and the craning of the airplane in place.  With the assistance of my engineers, we estimated the total cost for all four components, including labour and material to be $30,000.  I indicated this to Council.  I was ignored and the plane was erected for a budget of in excess of $300,000.  This is 10 times greater than my estimate.  

 

  1. The last example I will identify is the Bliss platform.  It was originally built by volunteers in 1992 for $12,000.  I estimated the construction costs at $60,000. The City again ignored me and spent; I believe over $400,000 to replace this structure.

 

So do we have a revenue problem or a spending problem?  You be the judge.

In order to regain transparency and accountability and to identify excessive spending on these types of projects, I propose to form a Transportation Committee that will oversee all transportation projects.  All projects will require approval from the Committee including design and budgeting.  Changes to any designs will not be allowed unless approved by the Transportation Committee.  The Committee will consult with the residents for input and review of all major projects.