More information will be provided before Lacombe County councillors consider proceeding with construction of a remote shop in the west end of the county.
A piece of property was purchased in 2006 and a site plan developed, Phil Lodermeier, the county’s manager of operations, told councillors while reviewing a discussion paper at their meeting Nov. 22.
The county has been budgeting money every year for construction of the shop but with Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant money available they could advance the construction schedule.
A remote shop would mean it’s not necessary for fleet maintenance for graders and equipment in the west portion of the county to be done at the Lacombe area shop. A salt and sand shed would also improve service in the Eckville country because trucks wouldn’t have to return to the main shop to refill after emptying their loads on winter roads.
“It will improve efficiencies in salt and sand, summer maintenance,” said Lodermeier.
“Could we justify this on a cost-benefit analysis, probably not,” said County Commissioner Terry Hager. “Service levels are pushing it. We could provide a whole lot better service with remote sites.”
The discussion paper provided costs for construction of centrally located remote shops in both the west and east ends of the county.
The proposal for the west is a 110’x100’ shop and 50’x50’ office at $1.65 million, a salt shed, asphalt pad, water and sewer systems, fuel system, fence and other utilities for an estimated total of $2.716 million.
The east shop was estimated at either $707,800 or $1.35 million depending on shop size. A third shop labeled Deer River was estimated at $868,000 to handle development south of Highway 11 for a total for all three shops at $4,418,750.
“The Deer River development proposal has prompted us to rethink the concept of having one main shop for the east half of the county,” Lodermeier’s report stated. “If the Deer River development takes off and the zoning allowed for further development south of Highway 11, we may need to consider a shop in the area.”
“The vision is that at some time if we got the number of developments around Sylvan Lake that we anticipate we could see staff situated there (at the west shop), depending on how developments move ahead,” said Hager.
“What are we really building and why?” questioned Councillor Rod McDermand.
“I bought into it a few years ago because we were going to have an explosion of population. I can’t support this unless we have a business case that makes sense. I think we’re a long ways from making this decision. Look at the population of the county, we’re not growing.”
Councillor Keith Stephenson said, “I think in the long run we will save money. I know we will. We have had those calls about graders running up and down roads with blades up,” he said in reference to the equipment travelling to the central shop for maintenance.
Asked about a timeline, Lodermeier suggested site preparation for the west shop would begin in 2014 while the county would search for a site in the east next year.
“When I see $4.5 million as an outlay and Keith talks about recovering costs, that’s a lot,” said McDermand. “We’re not going to throw more graders out there. What is the trigger, is it population?”
He added he’s not “hung up on the idea if the west gets one the east gets one. It’s driven by need.”
“I too have had several complaints about graders driving too much. The point is that is hours being put on graders,” said Councillor Dana Kreil.
Reeve Ken Wigmore called for a plan of how the remote shops would operate.
“I think we have to see some numbers to legitimize spending $4.5 million,” added McDermand.
Stephenson suggested continuing with the west location to see how it works and purchasing land for an eastern shop.
“We’re going to be spending $2.2 million to go out and tell ratepayers we’re doing it to see how it works is not due diligence,” argued McDermand.
He requested administration come up with an operational plan. “The test would be at divisional meetings of why we did this … Until we get more population we’re not there yet.”
“I feel comfortable with this. I don’t think administration would have brought it forward if they weren’t. I think we’ve got enough information,” said Stephenson. “I’m willing to move ahead.”
Hager promised to bring back information on staffing levels and triggers for construction of the shops. “Don’t make us do all this work for nothing. We’re saying it’s important because you have it in your strategic plan. We’ll do the work and bring back and formal report and resolution.”
“I don’t think service levels are the big problem. I thought the trigger would be population,” said McDermand. “I’m not in favour of doing this just to do something. There has to be a strong business plan and I don’t see that at this time. I don’t hear a lot of people complaining about service levels.”
In the end councillors voted unanimously to defer any decision until they get more information from administration.