July 17th, 2024

Next city budget could grow from grant asks

By Collin Gallant on July 11, 2024.

NEWS FILE PHOTO Performers rock the Stampede stage as guests enjoy the live music from the aging grandstand during a performance during the 2021 Summer Jam.



The Medicine Hat Stampede could be back before city council this summer as the annual fair is set to take place to renew a request for millions of dollars in city support for grandstand renovations.

That was revealed Tuesday during a four-hour meeting where council members pour through a list of 86 potential construction and additional program spending that were considered as additions to the 2025-26 budget.

That list includes no mention of a request for $20 million in grants and financing for grandstand replacement, while another high-profile item not included on a “recommended” list of 55 items, is a continuation of municipal support for HALO regional helicopter rescue service.

Councillors concluded the meeting wondering how they give budget officials a set list before several expensive items were decided, and generally determined changes could continue throughout the summer and fall.

“I appreciate the conversation, and I want it to continue” said Coun. Andy McGrogan. “There’s a big train coming down the tracks and it’s called the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede.

“We know that they’ll be back in front of us within a month or two… and we’ll have to make a decision. What have we done there (to include it in the budget proposal)?”

Public services division head Brian Stauth said the potential $14 million grant and $7 million loan are not built into the budget proposal that currently totals $36 million in new capital and $13 million in new operation funding

“Anything that’s done in relation to the Stampede would be a plus or add to the budget,” said Stauth. “It’s relevant to bring it to the surface, but we don’t have it included.”

Noted in the list, though not recommended, is a renewal of a $500,000 per year grant to HALO, though administrators said the discussion was based on arguments the province should provide more money for the service in the southeast region.

The group could be invited to make a case directly to council, Stauth said, to make the case to renew funding first given in 2023.

Last fall, the Stampede board lobbied council to sign on to a funding deal it had negotiated with the province to pay the $35 million needed to replace one aging grandstand on the grounds, upgrade another, modernize and add an event hosting space near Higdon Hall.

Councillors paused making a decision, however, requesting further business case information.

Ron Edwards, the Stampede’s general manager, told the News on Wednesday that he is awaiting the results of a financial assessment and business case study on the project. It could be complete by the end of July and forwarded to the city this summer, he said.

“It is a study on the future, really,” said Edwards. “We do need the facility (project) really badly. It’s a necessity for us and the future of the community.”

“When we get it, we’ll bring it to council.”

Councillors are deciding on preliminary approval of capital additions to the next city budget, comprised at the moment of 55 “recommended” and 30 more projects that could be differed to future years.

As is, paying to the difference would require a 2.2 percentage points of property tax increase, bring in the initial increase to 5.1 per cent to the existing tax base. One percentage point equals about $1 million in revenue.

Staffers say the purpose of the current meetings is to outline projects and gain council’s general approval at the July 15 council meeting before staff proposed a final draft budget after more talks next fall.

Mayor Clark said that Monday’s meeting might be too early to finalize the support for the capital list, but changes could come through the summer.

“We have lots of council meetings between not and then,” she said.
Coun. Darren Hirsch said a raft of amendments was “his biggest fear.”

“My challenge is that we’ll say we’re generally supportive, but what’s the mechanism for bringing projects on and off,”

“Right now I don’t see a path forward to have that discussion, to play pitch and catch about what goes in, stays out.”

Of those, 55 are being recommended to council’s approval.

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