The City of St. Albert’s nomination for a dubious distinction has earned mixed reviews from councillors.
Last week, the City’s decision to open a Starbucks Coffee kiosk in Servus Credit Union Place earned it a nomination from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in its 14th annual Teddy Waste Awards, recognizing the worst in wasted taxpayer dollars from the past year.
While the City didn’t win a dubious award — the municipal award instead went to the City of Montreal for video of snow-removal machines operating on bare streets — at least one councillor said it reinforced his reasoning for opposing the idea in the first place.
“I’m kind of surprised by the level of national attention this thing has received, but by the same token, I think what caught everyone by surprise is what I felt — that this isn’t the proper role for a municipality to partake in,” said Coun. Cam MacKay, who voted against the Starbucks deal when it came before city council last July.
He added that the ordeal may make leasing space in Servus Place more difficult.
“Now not only do [business owners] have to think if they can make a profit and deal with that, they also to consider what we’re going to do,” he said. “Are we going to get into the same line of business as them? That adds a lot more risk to anyone that would seek to do business with us.”
The Starbucks deal cost the City $280,000 for renovations and the corporate licence fee, which came out of reserves.
Coun. Cathy Heron, who voted in favour of the kiosk, said she thought the nomination was “puzzling.”
“Starbucks is not a very good example of wasting taxpayers’ money,” she said. “The whole issue with Starbucks, and it goes back to last summer, was a philosophical thing about whether municipalities should be in private business. The fact that we spent money — zero of it was actually charged to the taxpayer; it all came out of reserves, so reserves will be jiggled and priorities for the next 10 years at Servus Place reworked. It didn’t cost the taxpayers a penny; it’s putting money back in the taxpayers’ pocket.”
The kiosk is projected to bring in $90,000 of revenue each year, helping to offset the facility’s deficit, which currently sits at about $700,000 a year.
Heron added that her position has not changed in the months since.
“I would have loved for someone to do it privately; that would have been the best solution for everybody. But it didn’t happen,” she said. “So St. Albert took advantage of that potential revenue, and we’re benefiting from it.”
However, MacKay hasn’t budged, either.
“[My position has] just been confirmed more and more by recent events,” he said. “The one thing I’m really hoping is that it does turn a dollar, which is very much in doubt with a Tim Hortons opening so close. I’m really hoping for the best on this.”
— GLENN COOK, St. Albert Leader