TANYA FOUBERT CANMORE
Canmore council has done an about face on seniors housing by voting on Tuesday (June 28) to support a grant application for a project a week after defeating the same motion on a tie vote.
Councillor John Borrowman made the successful motion to reconsider supporting Bow Valley Regional Housing in a grant application in relation to a $19.3 million expansion of Bow River Lodge.
While he voted against it previously, Borrowman said new developments in the discussion warrant reconsideration.
“The housing board has passed a motion to clarify council’s concern,” he said. “We were being asked for a blank cheque for a project we had no input on, or the public.
“It is hard to make an informed decision without information.”
Borrowman said the cumulative effect of the project on Canmore taxpayers, who would pay the most out of the three municipalities (including Banff and MD of Bighorn), was not
presented and is not as simple as a $60, or a four per cent annual tax increase.
The grant application, if successful, would provide 50 per cent of the capital costs, requiring municipalities to pay a total of $9.65 million and Canmore to pay $5.8 million. Banff and the MD of Bighorn had previously voted to support the grant application.
Last week, the BVRH board passed a motion requiring any project to come back before member municipalities for approval of design and costs. It also included a process for public consultation if the grant is successful.
Regardless of the change of heart, councillors still expressed concern about the vague information surrounding exactly how much the proposal will cost, both as a capital project and operationally.
Councillor Hans Helder voted against the motion again, saying the new information does nothing to address his previous concerns.
Helder said the motion binds council to any capital and operational shortfalls and the public consultation process proposed is nothing more than window dressing.
“Quite frankly, except for the goodwill of the Bow Valley Regional Housing board, there is nothing that requires them to bring it back,” he said. “I am fully supportive of seniors housing as part of a sustainable community, but I am equally convinced for a community to be sustainable it needs to be economically sustainable as well.”
Helder brought up again a private operation being proposed to convert Mountain View Inn to a 66-room assisted living facility with rates set by the province.
He questioned whether public dollars should be going to a proposed project when another identical one does not need them to be viable.
“We have to have a full spectrum plan for dealing with seniors housing and this has been a hurried process,” he said. “We need to do this properly and make sure the taxpayer is not inordinately being asked to pay extra.”
Coun. Joanna McCallum also remained opposed to providing the letter of support noting she still has unanswered questions.
McCallum also questioned the point system used to determine who gets a place in the lodge.
“There is a community expectation the lodge is for residents of the Bow Valley when in actuality, it is for people of a certain income,” she said.
BVRH chief administrative officer Ian Wilson said spaces are for low to moderate income, with low being defined as below $27,000 a year, but he eadded a full disclosure of assets is required.
The point system is determined by the province, but there are certain discretionary points Wilson said are used for local applicants.
However, when it comes to the proposed expansion to create level three and level four spaces, which currently do not exist in the valley, Wilson said the process is different.
All level four spaces are determined by Alberta Health and level three by a mixture of that and the point system.
Mayor Ron Casey said nobody on council is questioning the need for seniors housing, but making sure the project is the right one for Canmore is important.
“While I think there are still a lot of questions, the fact it will come back to all councils for formal approval takes some of the angst away,” Casey said.
The mayor said a possible alternative for Canmore is, under its own housing corporation, to take on a similar project.
“That way we have the ability to control who gets in,” he said. “This (proposed) facility could quite easily fill up with people from other parts of the province.”
However, council still wrestled with the process proposed by BVRH for public consultation after tendering the project.
There were also questions about the regional housing commission, its mandate, funding and governance structure.
Helder successfully passed a motion to direct administration to initiate a review of the organization’s mandate, its requisition authority and governance model.
Borrowman successfully passed a motion for Canmore’s representative on the board to request a committee to be struck to bring forward a comprehensive building plan and operational model for the expansion project.