Sept. 23, 2020 meeting
Coping with COVID and customer service
Council’s Sept. 23 meeting started off with a presentation by Community Futures Lesser Slave Lake. That organization is working up two sets of courses designed to help local businesses cope in the COVID (or maybe post-COVID) era.
One set is on ‘thinking outside the box’-type strategies. The other is on customer service. For dates and such, get hold of CFLSL.
Also coming up, but not yet finalized, is a session on how to read financial statements. Many business owners lack this essential skill, said CF manager Josh Friesen.
Friesen’s final remark was to offer CF’s help in any economic development activity the M.D. might undertake.
‘Staying out of the weeds’
New director of transportation and utilities Ryan Tufts had a brief report for council on the state of road maintenance, mainly. Ditching in the south shore area is done and some of the material has been added to the toboggan hill, he said.
Bayer Road ditching has started. Gravel crushing continues at the Flatbush pit. The pit at Chisholm may have its life extended if the M.D. is able to acquire some land right next to it, also containing gravel. As for the Flatbush pit, “we’re scraping around the edges,” he said, in answer to a question about it from councillor Sandra Melzer. “We might not be back in there.”
The Smith bridge project was being tendered last week, Tufts said. A culvert job in the Mitsue area went out, but the results were disappointing. It will be put out to tender again, in hopes of better prices.
Other than that, Tufts said he’s putting a lot of time into figuring out a better system for prioritizing requests for action that come in.
“A lot of it is up to discretion,” he said. “I think we can improve on that.”
Some new software will be part of the picture.
“I’m purposely trying to stay out of the weeds, to look at the big picture,” Tufts added.
Councillor Brad Pearson asked about some fire hydrants that are out of commission and have been covered with blankets for a long period of time.
“We have a plan to service all of them,” said Tufts. “It’s not acceptable to have hydrants out of service for years at a time.”
Council accepted departing CAO Allan Winarski’s recommendation to appoint Barry Kolenosky interim chief administrative officer for the M.D. as of Oct. 1. Kolenosky, who has been the M.D.’s director of rural services the past while, will serve in the role until council finds a permanent replacement for Winarski, whose last day on the job is Sept. 30.
Job well done
Reeve Murray Kerik took a moment to thank CAO Winarski for his 17 years of leadership and presented him with a plaque on behalf of council and the M.D.
“This M.D. has a stellar reputation in the province,” Kerik said. “Mainly because of you – not because of us.”
Several councillors took the opportunity to thank and say nice things about Winarski as well. He responded, saying: “Thanks for all the free advice over the years. It’s been fun.”
Commenting on the state of affairs he’s leaving behind, Winarski said, “There are always those things we haven’t quite fixed,” and, “I think we’re the coolest M.D. in the province.”
Winarski has been coy about what he plans to do with the rest of his working life, but The Leader is pressing him for an interview.
Kind of a no-brainer
The provincial government wishes to bring the job of assessing ‘designated industrial property’ (DIP) in-house. But they can’t find the people to do the work, Winarski told council. So instead, they are paying municipalities to continue doing what they were already doing, which is to pay a contractor to do the property value assessment. Accordingly, council extended the DIP contract for a year, meaning Accurate Assessment will stay on the job.
“Kind of a no-brainer, that one,” observed reeve Kerik.
DIP, Winarski explained, is “hydrocarbon-type properties.”
This and that on M.D. facilities
Barry Kolenosky presented a lengthy report on various projects he’s been supervising across the M.D. – mainly to do with recreational and community facilities. It’s been a challenging summer, due to various factors – two of the main ones being a shortage of personnel and high prices. On the latter item, he gave an example. A sheet of 7/16 OSB that cost $17 in 2019 is selling for $32 – $36 this summer.
Bids on some M.D. jobs have come in discouragingly high as well. An example is a small job, estimated at $3,000. The lowest bid was $6,000, so it was re-tendered and the low bid the second time was $12,000!
“So we did that project ourselves,” Kolenosky said.
Community facilities are mostly re-opened, with COVID regs attached to their use. It turns out sanitization is costing a bit extra and needs to be added to the rental fees, Kolenosky said.
The clean-up of the beach at Canyon Creek has been a success story this summer, Kolenosky continued – with plenty of help from community volunteers. Removal of items from in the water will have to wait until (hopefully) next year. Federal permission is required.
The news is not as good on a septic tank at Flatbush. A repair job revealed shoddy work at the time of installation, and a $17,000 unexpected expense.
“There’s a lesson,” said councillor Pearson. “We should have some quality control attached to it when we do anything under the dirt.”
‘Like painting a rotten board’
Kolenosky’s report included a tale of woe about a pane of glass in a door that keeps getting broken. It happens, he thinks, because people tend to open the door with their foot. Various solutions were proposed. A quote for replacing the door came at $18,000, so something else will have to be done. Replacing the glass, he said, is “like painting a rotten board.”
Things are weird
In his final report on the financial situation, CAO (and acting director of finance) Allan Winarski started off by saying, “Things are rather weird this year.”
He was referring to the COVID effect, which gave property owners a few of extra months to make their payments.
“The money is slowly coming in,” he said.
One big item of capital expenditure that was on the 2020 books (Winarski called “The elephant in the room”) looks like it won’t be resolved this year. This is the re-routing of a piece of the Old Smith Highway. Negotiations with the landowner continue, he said.
How is that going? Asked councillor Esau.
“So far pretty good,” said Winarski. “They’re this far apart (holding up his hands), but they’re talking.”
Regional housing: sharpen the pencils
Councillor Pearson said budget-wise, the authority is in decent shape. It’s getting reimbursed for additional expenses brought about by COVID measures.
The board has told administration “to hold the line,” he said, on municipal requisitions.
Pearson also spoke about a letter from a deputy minister, urging the housing authority to ‘look for efficiencies.’ Amalgamation has been suggested.
“The writing’s on the wall,” said Pearson. “Sharpen the pencils.”
Athabasca Watershed Council: contentious issues
Councillor Esau’s report on this organization made it sound quite dysfunctional.
“Things are not kosher there,” he said. “Harassment charges. Resignations.”
Esau said there were “contentious issues” on the agenda, which were deferred to another meeting, “which we won’t have for a long time.”
A councillor from another municipality declared he was wasting his time and walked out of the meeting.
“The agenda was three full pages long,” Esau said. “I don’t think we dealt with half of it.”
The group’s annual general meeting is scheduled for Oct. 24.