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City Council sets aside $30,000 from enterprise fund for 14 new benches
A new recreation centre, crime prevention efforts, environmental protection, life-saving AEDs — all of these might be better ways to spend $30,000 from the City’s enterprise fund than replacing public seating, according to one member of council.
A lengthy debate over the purchase of 14 new benches at the Oct. 7 meeting of Langley City council came down to the aesthetics of the City’s downtown core, how much improvements cost and where that money is coming from.
As council decided whether to allocate $30,000 from the enterprise fund (formerly called the council enterprise fund) on public benches for the City’s downtown core, Councillor Dave Hall suggested the expenditure should have been handled during the City’s annual budget planning process earlier in the year.
As he has in the past, Hall referred to the enterprise fund as a “slush fund” which the City rushes to spend at the end of each year.
Rather than spend that money on individual items, he said, it would be better put toward long-term projects.
Langley City has the dubious distinction of being the “car theft and break-in capital of Metro,” said Hall.
“Perhaps the money could have been directed toward crime prevention.”
At budget time, council deals with a list of items and prioritizes them, said Hall.
Then, “with no heads up, this just appears on the council agenda and I’m told we should be delivering $30,000 to this, with nothing else held up against it.”
“Staff is not trying to spend money because it’s the end of the year,” said Councillor Gayle Martin.
“Council took a walk in July in the downtown core and we made comments regarding changes we’d like to see,” she added.
The new benches are in keeping with the City’s downtown masterplan, which calls for the current teal and burgundy colour scheme of its fixtures to be switched to basic black.
“This is exactly what the fund is there for, and I take offense to the insinuation that staff is spending the money on a whim,” Martin said.
“This is coming on a whim,” replied Hall.
“We had an opportunity to deal with this at budget time when it should have been done.”
Hall suggested the money might also be better spent on the “under-funded Timms project.
“I’m a little gun shy,” he added. “Earlier we approved $9,000 for stick signs.”
The actual cost of the benches is $1,350 each; the remaining $435 is the cost of installation, said City CAO Francis Cheung.
Hall asked why labour costs were being added when City staff would be installing them as part of the work they are paid to do.
Cheung explained that the labour falls outside staff’s regular work and so the work is charged to the City as a capital project. Workers are not being paid twice for doing the same job, he told The Times.
Fourteen benches at a cost of $1,785 each, comes to $24,990. The additional $5,000 was included as a contingency, Cheung explained.
The design and structural integrity of the benches was also an issue for some.
“The benches we are replacing were pretty skookum,” said Hall.
“Didn’t they hold up? Are these eco-friendly and will they stand up better than the ones they’re replacing,” he asked.
“If someone wanted to put a sledgehammer through (a bench) it would damage it,” replied Cheung.
The lack of a barrier at the centre of the bench to prevent overnight use was also raised.
“Most benches have dividers, probably so people don’t sleep on them,” said Martin.
“These are being put in some high-risk places,” agreed Hall, adding it’s very likely that “questionable individuals will be using them as a temporary home.”
Cheung said staff will look into finding a design that incorporates a centre barrier, but noted that Council had previously approved this design and that a number of the benches have already been installed near the Serenade condo development at the edge of Douglas Park.
Questioned about the fate of the old benches, Cheung said they we’re likely just going to be scrapped.
Councillor Rosemary Wallace asked whether any could be sold or recycled, while Martin suggested that any which are still in decent condition could be relocated, as-is, to parks or the paths along the Nicomekl flood plain.
“But I have no problem with selling them and getting the revenue,” she added.
Council voted to allocate the money for the benches from the enterprise fund, with only Hall opposed.