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Town council approves additional $250,000 to include signage on Fourth Avenue retaining wall

In the end, council voted in favour of approving the request.
The Fourth Avenue retaining wall will now feature signage, as opposed to a bare surface.

At first, Cochrane town council seemed to be sitting on the fence on the long-awaited decision to approve additional funding to build a better wall on Fourth Ave.

But in the end, with a little prodding from the mayor, they may have avoided what Humpty Dumpty experienced – a big fall.

The decision presented to council at the Nov. 28 meeting was whether or not to approve an additional $250,000 to the existing $1.5 million budget for the retaining wall, which is currently under construction on Fourth Ave. Discussion surrounding the enhanced wall design goes back to the beginning of October.

In the end, council voted in favour of approving the request.

In its simplest form, the argument in favour of adding the design presented by administration (which council had previously responded favourably to) was that it would be in line with everything council has previously supported in terms of community vision and identity.

The key point that ultimately played the largest role in the approval is that the $250,000 will not come from taxpayers – it will come from a reserve fund supplied solely by developers, designated for such community enhancements. That means it has no effect on property taxes.

If members of council had their way, that sentence would be repeated over and over and inserted into headlines and shouted from rooftops. The sensitivity to approving spending money – any money – was perhaps a hangover from recent heated budget deliberations.

Coun. Morgan Nagel, who initially was opposed to the motion, came around to supporting it, saying the opposition he heard would be mitigated by the fact the money comes from developers’ pockets, not taxpayers’.

The discussion around the pros and cons of maybe doing more public engagement, forming a task force, asking for more options from administration, and whether the signage was really necessary, eventually prompted Mayor Jeff Genung to weigh in.

Somewhat uncharacteristically, Genung referred to the short-sightedness of some previous councils.

“We build things for function, then, for lack of a better word, we chicken out at the end,” Genung said.

“The enhancement – the things that actually make other communities stand out – we’ve said it in our community vision, we’ve said it in our strategic priority sessions: we want to be unique, we want to preserve our character, we want to enhance our community.

“Well, this is an opportunity to do just that.”

The mayor added, “If we drag our feet on this we might as well just forget it altogether.”

Some of the preceding discussion referred to the enhanced design of the wall as “artwork.” Genung disagreed with that terminology.

“It’s a sign on a wall and it looks great,” he said, before concluding with a warning that disapproval of the motion might mean they’d all be back in a year to decide what to put on the bare wall.

“It’ll be $500,000 and we’ll be a laughingstock,” he said.

It was enough to convince enough of the fence-sitters. The vote was ultimately 4-2 in favour of allocating the additional $250,000.

One of those opposed was Coun. Tara McFadden, who argued for more public engagement, which would have delayed the decision again. More public engagement would not guarantee a clear direction, and could lead to even more options to debate.

It was pointed out for context that the public opinion survey done by the Town on the budget garnered only 100 responses.

McFadden had admitted earlier that approving the funding was “a chance to do something special that would probably be an eyesore otherwise.”

Coun. Patrick Wilson, sitting firmly on the fence, was the other dissenting vote. He said he was “60-40” but wouldn’t be upset if he lost.

Instead of a plain concrete wall spanning some 100 metres, it will now feature the signage: “Cochrane” which will be lit up at night.

And whether or not a ‘Humpty Dumpty fall’ may have been avoided – that’s a call for Cochranites to make on their own.

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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