“Our number one focus has to be growth and customer service.”
What Slave Lake needs to do, says its mayor, is more than just maintain the status quo.
Why? Because for one thing, says Tyler Warman, the status quo isn’t sustainable. Prices are always going up and (at least lately) the tax base not growing and maybe even shrinking.
So what’s the alternative?
Actively promoting growth, says Warman, “and that costs money.”
Warman has all sorts of visionary notions about municipal government somehow “getting involved,” in promoting local business and attracting more visitors and so on. When it comes to specifics, though, he doesn’t have a lot. But yes, town council has designated some money in the 2019 budget for such involvement. It hasn’t been formally approved yet, and what it ends up looking like may depend on more than just town council.
“We need to understand if this is a town program or regional,” Warman says. “And to what level.”
‘Regional,’ means the town in partnership with the M.D. of Lesser Slave River and the Sawridge First Nation. Those three have collaborated on several projects in the past seven years, with all benefitting. But that was mostly with (and because of) disaster recovery money from the province. Collaborating on ways to spend somebody else’s money was not without its challenges, but was a relative no-brainer. Investing your own money in something that isn’t just for you is trickier, as Warman acknowledges.
“Most of it (development projects) has nothing to do with your partners,” he says. “We’ll continue to collaborate where it makes sense.”
Whether it makes sense in the area of economic development remains to be seen. As things stand now (or did at about this time last week) town council wants to spend some money in that area. Warman says he hopes within a couple of weeks to know if the other two parties will contribute and how much.
Either way, there will be some money aimed at economic growth in general and support of businesses in particular. Part of it might be in raising awareness in the business community about loan availability. Part of it might be directed at letting people outside the community know where Slave Lake is and what’s so great about it.
One reason Warman is so keen on doing something is, as he sees it, is that “Slave Lake has services for 10,000 people, and only 6,700 paying for it.”
Given that, plus the roads/water/sewer/etc. obligations that there’s never enough money to pay for, where do you find money for economic development?
“We’ve done a lot of hard work to change processes internally,” Warman says. “To save money. I think we’re doing okay, but it makes for some tough decisions.”
One of them might be to not do any road re-habilitation projects in 2019. That appears to be the way council is leaning. The next one on the priority list is 3rd Ave. SW, which Warman says is estimated at around $3 million.
“We’re going to park a lot of capital projects,” he says. “I think there’ll be a lot of fine-tuning of our 10-year capital plan.”
The ideas is, going forward, there’ll be a better idea of what should be done, in what order, and how it’s going to be paid for.
Meanwhile, the capital spending doesn’t really stop. The $14 million sewage lagoon upgrade has to be finished, and the unfunded portion has to be covered by borrowing. The regional raw water intake and water line also cost more than what was funded, and the town has to cover part of that.
Getting back to supporting business in 2019, Warman says, “Our number one focus has to be growth and customer service.” He says, “We’re challenging all our departments to think bigger.”
Going further, Warman says he thinks the town is too restrictive, and that it might be time to look at sending the pendulum back in the other direction.
“We’re so focused on limiting risk we’re making it too hard (on businesses).”
Does that mean a review of town policies regarding development and land use?
“We do that anyway,” Warman says. “We’re going to look at them a little more aggressively.”