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 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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