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Saskatoon city councillors want fewer homicides, new arena in 2020

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WATCH: Saskatoon's city hall will be busy this week as councillors and the administration return to a regular schedule – Jan 12, 2020

Saskatoon’s city council and administration have some big tasks ahead of them in 2020.

Two city councillors who spoke with Global News said reducing the number of homicides, replacing the city’s lead pipes and working towards a new downtown entertainment district were among their priorities.

A record number of homicides took place in Saskatoon in 2019, and out of those 16, three took place blocks away from each other in less than a week’s time.

Ward 5 Coun. Randy Donauer said he hopes new bylaws governing boarded-up houses can help reduce the violence.

READ MORE: Saskatoon police combat violence, homicide record and call increase in 2019

“Up until now it’s been a property nuisance issue, maybe a neighbour issue for maintenance. Now it’s becoming a crime issue,” he said.

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“What we’re finding is abandoned houses, where the landlord or the owner is not doing anything with it, [are] becoming a magnet for crime and drug use and that sort of thing.”

Donauer said the city administration will look at solutions after examining similar cities with the same issue and consulting with the city’s legal counsel to determine what an appropriate response could entail.

“You’re stepping in and infringing upon citizens’ rights and so I think council always does that with caution [and by] getting legal opinions,” Donauer said.

READ MORE: Pleasant Hill volunteers clean up around boarded-up houses

Ward 3 Coun. Ann Iwanchuk said other issues contributing to crime also need solutions, but that said solutions would be beyond the scope of just the city.

“There’s a huge crystal meth problem that has to be brought under control, which will require the resources of more than what city hall can accomplish,” she said.

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“It certainly requires the resources of the province.”

Donauer told Global News that he viewed the rise in homicides as a “blip” and that he hoped the trend would subside.

“In the past when we’ve had spikes years ago, it would be because there’s warring gang activity going on. That’s not really been a major part of this.”

Iwanchuk also said the city is also working towards reducing the lead pipes used for water.

An investigation by Global News, the Regina Leader-Post, the University School of Journalism and other media organizations revealed the lead levels in the city’s drinking water are comparable with those in Flint, Mich., at the height of the 2015 water crisis.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan residents have some of highest levels of lead-tainted water in Canada

Another major project ahead of council is the creation of an entertainment district downtown, which would likely include a new arena and, potentially, a convention centre.

The administration is expected to release a shortlist of potential locations early in 2020 and Iwanchuck said she anticipates council will make a decision this year.

“The decision that we have to make is are we going to set land aside?” Donauer said.

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“We’re not making a decision right now to pull the trigger on any construction.”

READ MORE: Downtown Saskatoon turning corner as 2020 approaches: Charlie Clark

Donauer compared the SaskTel Centre to a used car, saying a responsible steward needs to plan for its replacement. He also said that concert promoters had told council that the SaskTel Centre is missing amenities which would keep attracting A-list talent to the city.

He said local businesses would lose out on “millions” of dollars if entertainers went to another venue in another city.

Donauer said the decision is perhaps the biggest of the year and of the entire council term.