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Edmonton and St. Albert inching towards closer working relationship

Edmonton and St. Albert city councils are being asked to work more closely together on major projects.

The first baby steps began in the fall of 2015 when the two cities began talks to look at creating one amalgamated transit service.

The next step in the process involves a pair of reports, from each city, that will be debated by their respective council committees — St. Albert on Monday and Edmonton on Friday — that will make recreation the focus of joint talks between the two.

“The partners agree to notify each other and share information on potential joint opportunity recreation facilities, service delivery options or other relevant information, as requested by the working group,” the Edmonton report said.

A cynic might suggest that this will only lead to the signing of an agreement that agrees the two sides should talk, however, Coun. Andrew Knack thinks it will be more than that.

“This report is essentially the first step in moving us forward to a place where we can more actively collaborate on recreation,” Knack said via email.

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said even though the provincial government has encouraged these talks, “we probably would have gotten to this point on our own anyway.”

The NDP mandated that municipalities had to put together inter-municipal collaborative framework (ICF) agreements with neighbours that shared a border.

Four services are required: emergency services, transportation, water and wastewater and recreation. The first three were dealt with by the metro regional board, which is made up of 13 municipalities. Recreation was kept out so the 13 municipalities could work out plans with their immediate neighbours.

The Jason Kenney government made things even easier through its “red tape reduction” legislation by changing the word “will” to “may” enter discussions.

Knack said a timetable is being set out to make sure progress happens.

“The hope is that from this, we can then begin more detailed discussions on opportunities to provide recreation services in a way that is beneficial to residents of both cities while ensuring we are each optimizing our resources,” he said.

“A working group will be created within 90 days of adopting this framework, which allows those conversations to occur.”

Heron has something in mind. A two-ice-sheet, aquatic-equipped rec centre that now might be timely.

In an interview with Global News, she said St. Albert has identified three potential parcels of land in the northern part of the city to build such a facility, with one location easily reached from the Anthony Henday.

The hope is to pick where to eventually build on Jan. 20.

“We’re going to identify a piece of land and then we’re going to try to figure out how we’re going to find the money to build a rec centre,” she said. “That will probably include some aquatic space and at least two sheets of ice I’m thinking. So we’re in conversations of building more ice. There’s always a demand.”

Edmonton city council’s budget decision to delay the Lewis Farms rec centre and library has provided an opportunity to open some conversations.

“I think because the City of Edmonton had a lot riding on the Lewis Farms rec centre, and now that that has been put on hold, there might an opportunity for Edmonton and St. Albert to work together to find some sort of smaller project that would bridge the gap between now and when the City of Edmonton can afford to build Lewis Farms,” she said.

Knack said via email that there is good regional revenue potential by working together.

“I believe so, but more work would need to be done on this to help build a proper business case,” he said.

“I would love to see a joint project like a rec centre between regional partners,” Knack added. “I believe the ‘shared investment for shared benefit’ work that Mayor Iveson has been doing with the rest of the Edmonton Metropolitan Regional Board recognizes that there is significant value in working even closer together to provide services and grow our economies.”

Heron is encouraged that regular meetings will happen with the working group through the next year. She anticipates it’ll be driven by administration, as opposed to the politicians.

“I think there is a better way to deliver services in Alberta, avoiding amalgamations between counties and cities. We can still remain autonomous and have our own identity, but we can share a lot of services. Transit is a perfect example and recreation is another one.”

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