Sept. 26, 2018 meeting
Wildfire Legacy Corporation
Following up from a recent meeting of the Regional Tri-Council, M.D. council had to figure out the M.D. role in dealing with the operating deficit of the Legacy Centre in Slave Lake. Whatever one may think about the facility, said CAO Allan Winarski, “We have the thing and we have to do the best we can with it.”
Winarski proceeded to the white board, where he drew some pictures indicating how something called ‘variable costs’ have to be covered by rental revenues, otherwise they end up interfering with the ‘fixed costs.’
Fair enough, said councillor Robert Esau, “but you can only do that as long as you stay affordable.”
“Are they beating the bushes?” asked councillor Brad Pearson, referring to attempts to drum up more business.
“Oh yes,” said reeve Murray Kerik. “Jill’s doing a hell of a job; her and Garry.”
Winarski said there might be more that can be done at the centre in the way of conferences.
What he was asking for though was a motion from council to encourage “activity-based financial reporting,” for the Legacy Centre, “so profitability can be assessed.”
Council gave him what he wanted.
Lobbying the government
Councillors were asked if any would like to attend a “highly recommended” course at Grant MacEwan University on effective lobbying of government. The course was also held last March and councillor Brian Rosche and CAO Allan Winarski attended. Winarski was recommending others attend this session, saying it has “a lot of insights.”
One of those insights, relayed by Rosche, was an example of how a municipality can shoot itself in the foot. I.e: “We’d like $10 million for a bridge at Smith, and by the way, I’m not going to vote for you in the next election.” That sort of thing.
Councillors Brad Pearson and Sandra Melzer, along with reeve Kerik, plan to attend the Oct. 19 session.
Making nice with the neighbours
Per new government rules, municipalities must make formal cooperation agreements with their neighbouring municipalities. This has been the cause of considerable grumbling on the part of councillors over the past year or so, but (as usual) the reality is not as onerous as initially imagined. CAO Allan Winarski had an update for council.
Good news is that of the seven municipalities that share borders with Lesser Slave River, three are exempted from the requirement for an Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP), due to the shared borders being Crown land bush country. With the Town of Slave Lake, of course, agreements are already in place. That leaves the counties of Big Lakes, Athabasca and Westlock.
Further good news: provincial money is available to draw up these agreements. Winarski is proposing that in the case of Athabasca and Westlock Counties, the M.D. of LSR take the lead, apply for the grant and get things going. Big Lakes County, on the other hand, is “already out the gate,” with the process.
An example of the kind of thing that needs to be covered in such an agreement is a confined feeding operation. Winarski said the M.D. would have to agree not to allow such a facility right on its border.
Council agreed by way of a motion to have the M.D. manage the agreement development process with Athabasca and Westlock Counties.
With $100 million in capital assets, the M.D. is being strongly advised to come up with an asset management program. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities agrees and has a grant program to help its members pay for such analysis. The deadline for applying was Oct. 23, and council was being urged to approve the application.
But bad news came in just that morning.
“It’s closed,” said operations director Bill Klassen. “It was over-subscribed.”
However, Winarski said let’s apply anyway and “forward the circumstances to our MP.”
“Use strong language!” said councillor Brad Pearson.
Reviewing the cheque registry, councillor Rosche noted lots of payments for gravel hauling.
“How many of these companies are local?” he asked.
“All of them,” said Klassen.
Klassen wasn’t asked, but went on to say that there was a shortage of trucks through the season for the gravel haul. One thing that happened, he said, was somebody was hired, showed up for a day or two and then disappeared, and they were local too.
Getting rid of trucks
The M.D. replaced a bunch of vehicles this year. Selling off the old ones is part of that process and council was asked to approve the disposal of these assets by auction. It includes 11 pickup trucks, a loader and a grader. They’ll go to a Ritchie Brothers auction.
That pesky land-use issue
A proposal to add an agricultural use to a country residential zone for bigger lots was back before council. This was hotly debated in previous meetings and it was again. Councillor Pearson foresaw dire consequences and objected forcefully. But his colleagues were undaunted and the bylaw change passed second and third readings by 5 – 1 votes.
The land in question is a quarter section on Bayer Road, west of Slave Lake. The owners wish to keep a few animals on it, and had applied to change the zoning to agricultural. That didn’t fly, as it would remove the land from the possibility of further subdivision into residential lots, which is what the M.D. hopes will happen eventually. By allowing some ag use in a CR zone, the owners get what they want and the ability to subdivide is retained.
That’s how it was pitched to council by CAO Winarski.
“If you want people living in the M.D. you have to have some flexibility,” he said.
“I think this is great,” said councillor Brian Rosche.
“I wholeheartedly disagree,” said Pearson.
The liability bogeyman
Council spent a couple of hours with risk management expert Doug Wiseman, hearing horror stories about how municipalities have been held to account when accidents happened on their watch.
For example: On an Ontario mountain bike course developed by volunteers, a guy went over a certain feature, fell off, broke his neck and sued the county. Because it was on their land, they were responsible and ended up on the hook for $9 million.
“If you’re looking after it, you’re going to get pulled into it,” he said.
Wiseman concluded his presentation with something he calls The L.A.W. of risk management, which stands for ‘Look, Ask and Watch.’ Finding out what your peers have experienced is part of that.
A late addition to the agenda, this had to do with M.D. efforts to improve drainage in the hamlet. There has been a negative reaction to some of it, council heard, mainly due to the fact the newly-excavated ditches interfere with parking for events at the seniors’ centre.
Bill Klassen, defending the work that is being done, said it follows municipal standards and that “maybe we need to look at parking solutions.”
Reeve Kerik agreed with that.
“It would be nice to offer an alternative,” he said.
Councillor Esau said most of the ditching work is much appreciated; it’s just that one corner that is causing concern. He said a big floor-curling event is coming up, and parking is needed, now that the ditching has eliminated some of the street parking.
“I’m not saying they did it legal,” he said, referring to the former parking habits. “But it worked.”
There are some options for overflow parking in the area, council heard. The M.D. will look into it.
Bayer Rd. safety
Councillor Pearson brought up a safety concern from people having to turn left off Hwy. 2 onto Bayer Road. There’s a dotted line on that stretch, he said, and people are passing those slowing down to turn left. What’s needed is a double solid line, and it needs to be visible. A turning lane would be nice as well.
“We need to lobby,” he said.
Safety concerns at that intersection are nothing new.
“It was an issue in 1988,” said councillor Becky Peiffer.
Also on Pearson’s mind were the ruts on Hwy. 2 near Assineau.
“Somebody’s going to die there,” he said.
Council resolved to send a letter to Alberta Transportation, expressing the M.D.’s concerns.
Water getting closer
Reeve Kerik had good news out of Westlock County; the county has received funding to extend water service north as far as Fawcett. This has been talked about for years, because when it happens, the possibility of going a bit further north to Flatbush becomes tantalizingly possible.
“It’s getting close!” he said.