In an unusual procedure, the addendum item to be added was discussed at length in open session before a unanimous decision was ultimately made by council not to include the item, making the information discussed unavailable to the public.
Although an inference could be made as to the subject of the addendum based on the comments of town council, in a post-meeting interview CAO Greg Birch had to remain mute as to the subject matter of the document.
Not able to officially divulge the contents of the addendum item, Birch did reveal the results of discussions by administration prior to council’s March 24 meeting, in which concerns with regard to the spray park project were raised and detailed.
According to Birch, the concerns about the spray park project raised by administration during this prior discussion included details of the construction of the bathroom facility, such as air dryers or paper towels, what kinds of toilets or how many, a proposed shade structure addition, as well as an area for janitorial storage. Other concerns included cleaning of the pad itself, should there be broken glass or other debris, which would require electrical hook-up so the surface could be power washed.
Birch also detailed concerns over use of the paved parking lot adjacent to Parkside Manor by the public due to proximity, suggesting possible conflict could arise over use of this area. The lower visibility of the spray park location chosen might also indicate a need for some kind of video surveillance to be installed. In addition, Alberta Health Services regulations must be met, and a licence to operate the facility must be obtained and timed for the suggested completion date.
Surface drainage and stormwater runoff relative to the Arts and Crafts Building must also be taken into account, added Birch during the interview.
“On that building, there has been in the past some seepage on the south side. The spray park group know about that, so they’re intending to put a little bit of a change in elevation to ensure that drainage goes away from that building.”
“These are all, by the way, solvable issues — we want this to go. We’re just trying to facilitate and smooth off some of the edges.”
A major concern centered on the capacity of the sanitary sewer line that would be required to swallow the discharge from the spray park.
“Because this is going to be a flow-through system, the water has to go somewhere, and due to Alberta Environment’s requirements, you cannot discharge chlorinated water into the storm sewer system,” said Birch.
“So it will go to the sanitary sewer system. It so happens that our sanitary line on 50th Avenue is nearing capacity. At peak flows, we can’t potentially — and potentially would depend on what other sewage is going down that line — but potentially we can’t discharge into that line without causing a backup. So the solution the spray park committee is proposing is putting in a water retention tank underground to control the release of the water. But we might want backflow preventers, so that if the sanitary sewage line was starting to back up, it’s not coming up onto the pad.”
At the March 24 meeting, Coun. Randy Sparks was the first to come out in opposition to the process by which the addendum came before the eyes of council as a proposed addition to the meeting agenda.
“To me, it’s not acceptable, because there’s very pertinent information found within this document that we have not been privy to, other than walking through this door. This is very important information pertaining to this project, and I believe that council needs to have the opportunity to discuss with administration each and every point found within this document, and not feeling pressured by any stretch of the imagination, being able to have a casual conversation, so we can hear and understand where administration is coming from.”
Objecting to what he perceived as an attempt to “fast-track” the information the addendum contained, Coun. Sparks continued to voice his disapproval.
“It seems to me that this item was fast-tracked through the process as information I believe came in late and administration did not have the time necessary to go over this information to be able to get council this information prior to this meeting, so it could be discussed and looked at, with members of council being able to talk to the spray park committee about concerns that administration may have. I have a little bit of a concern with fast-tracking this item, which is what I feel is happening here.”
Birch indicated the submission to administration of a package of information from the Taber Splash Pad Committee on March 18 detailing the plans and requests of that organization left very little time under the strictures of the council’s existing agenda policy for administration to review the information in preparation for the March 24 council meeting.
“Administration hadn’t had time to look in any detail until Tuesday, when we got the package that we sent out to you in your agenda,” said Birch at the meeting.
“Great project, phenomenal attributes, but we have not been involved in the project in any detail until now. I think the key part, if I understand correctly, is they have a timeline they’ve promised the community to adhere to, and terms of ordering equipment, they need to get that done by this week.”
Coun. Jack Brewin was also disappointed in the process by which the information contained in the addendum was brought before council for consideration.
“Something we really have to take into consideration about this, is that we have contractors that have jobs they’re committed to, so the faster we can turn dirt on this project, the better. We keep putting it off and off and off — we’ve had ample time to do these studies, I’m really disappointed this came in the day that we want to make a decision on this. To be fair to the community that donated all of the money, that has been told it will be up and running by June, and then throw basically a curve ball at us like this, I don’t think it’s very thoughtful.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas also appeared unwilling to accept the addendum document, suggesting it was an attempt to “stall” the spray park project.
“If I remember my initial motion, I had that amended because I had a member of public works on that committee, and it was amended to have administration on there. Consequently, I amended that motion, and it passed so that public works and administration should have been on there. When I see that administration doesn’t have time to assess this, I’m wondering what went wrong, because both those entities were supposed to be on this committee. And it should have been followed through, and none of this should have been before us now. I’m sorry, I can’t accept this coming now to stall this project.”
Mayor Henk De Vlieger was slightly more charitable towards administration in his assessment of why the information was coming before council only now.
“A little background to the information is that administration has asked if it’s possible to tie in to the sewer, which was an essential thing that had to be done. An answer was given just a week ago that it’s possible with some kind of a container. Before that answer was there, it did not make sense to go into all kinds of details, because if the location wasn’t suitable, to go to all this work. That’s basically why it came in so late, that’s my understanding.”
Mayor De Vlieger went on to note many of the concerns of administration contained within the document could easily be rectified through discussion with the spray park committee.
“I can see the concerns from administration, which I think is fair, but as I just glance through it, there’s a lot of items in here that can easily be worked out between the committee and administration. Do we as council want to get involved in all of those details, or can we trust that they can be worked out between administration and the committee? That’s basically the question.”
Receiving the information at the eleventh hour made it difficult for town council to make informed decisions about the project, added Coun. Sparks.
“I know it can be worked out, and it can move forward. I just hope in the future that any information pertaining to such an important project such as this, we’ll have all the information previous, so that we don’t have to ask so many questions, with a committee sitting here wanting to know if this thing is going forward, so these questions can be answered previous to a meeting such as this.”
Coun. Rick Popadynetz was outrightly opposed to adding the addendum to the meeting agenda.
“I don’t think we should add it, because we haven’t had time to ponder over the information. This shouldn’t be added to an agenda when it’s brought in that late.”
Coun. Sparks suggested the spray park committee should have had their information to town administration earlier.
“If the spray park committee did not get their information to administration in time, then it should not have been on this agenda. They should have been told we have a full agenda, we don’t have time to look at all of this information and get it ready for this coming meeting. This shouldn’t have even been on the docket today if this wasn’t received in time, because no one else would be able to have been fast-tracked, and told we’ll get it on there for you. I’m sure administration felt some pressure to get it on, and because of that, they didn’t have time to prepare what they needed to prepare.”
Bruce Warkentin, speaking on behalf of the Taber Splash Pad Committee during the delegation session of the same meeting, was adamant the committee had met the deadlines for submission it had been asked to meet.
“I’m an accountant, so I’m very cognizant of deadlines, and meeting them and working towards them. As a committee, we were under the impression that these deadlines for submission of information was March 18, which was the date we submitted our information. We were under the impression, whether it was rightly or wrongly communicated to us, that was the deadline. We were working towards that, and we provided the information on that date.”
In his interview following the March 24 meeting, CAO Birch commented on the unusual nature of the addendum decision by town council, suggesting that although the document discussed by council is not available publicly, this should by no means be taken as a signal the Town of Taber is attempting to obfuscate the issue or withhold pertinent information from the general public.
“There’s nothing confidential here, nothing secret. It’s just because the document was never public. There’s nothing that would prevent the park from going ahead at all, but some of the fine tuning of the details so that we know that the project will work for everybody in the end.”