Aug. 12, 2020 meeting
Groups get what they ask for
The M.D.’s Community Assistance Board met for the third time this year, prior to the council meeting. Chaired by councillor Brad Pearson, it considered requests for funding from four community groups.
The Marten Beach Cottagers’ Society requested $841 for community beautification; the Smith Half Century Plus Association asked for $4,500 to help with operating costs and insurance; the French Creek Community Association requested $2,000 for similar purposes and finally, the South Shore Children’s Association put in a request for $1,325. (This was a late application and was not included in the agenda package.)
The board went in camera to discuss the requests. What normally happens is they come out of closed session with a decision that gives at least some of the applicants less than what they ask for. Not this time – the requested amounts were granted across the board, for a total of $8,666.
That leaves $9,248 for the fourth round of grand requests.
Hang In There
Councillor Becky Peiffer brought a request to council for financial support on behalf of the Slave Lake Tourism Society. It is organizing a drive-in concert with Gord Bamford on Aug. 22 and could use help covering the costs.
“Nothing else is happening (in the way of summer events),” she said. “So we came up with this.”
Councillors asked a few questions and then passed a Brian Rosche motion to provide $2,500.
One councillor was opposed: Brad Pearson.
“I’d like to know how a one-off entertainment event qualifies as economic development,” was his opening remark. Later in the discussion he added: “Everything should pay for itself.”
For its contribution, the M.D. gets a couple of VIP spots at the concert, which council decided to make available to M.D. employees by way of a draw.
“Somebody better go to this,” said councillor Sandra Melzer.
Finances: Like fishing in a cutthroat stream
CAO Allan Winarski – acting as director of finance – gave an overview of the state of M.D. finances, in relation to the 2020 budget. It opened with: “We have money, people!”
In other words, finances are in decent shape, despite looming revenue issues (though perhaps not this year). Tax payments have been deferred to the end of September, but “taxes are trickling in,” he said. “I think we’re going to do okay on collections.”
Characterizing his report for council, Winarski called it pure, “like fishing in a cutthroat stream.”
Some councillors found it pretty clear as well.
“I appreciate this,” said councillor Sandra Melzer.
So did her colleague Robert Esau.
“Who’s going to do this when you’re gone?” he said. (Winarski is due to resign at the end of next month.)
“Everyone is replaceable,” said Winarski. “You’re going to be okay.”
New policing costs for the M.D.
Come January, the M.D. has to start paying a portion of policing costs. For 2021 the bill will be $150,000. In a couple of years it will rise to something over $300,000.
This was not new information for council. What was new was an analysis and a recommendation that council advocatefor the municipal contribution to stay at the $150,000 amount, “until a corporate review has been conducted upon the RCMP contract and organizational structure.”
In other words, is the M.D. getting bang for its buck? The tone of Mr. Winarski’s report for council suggested it might not be. Councillors, in their discussion of the issue, gave the same impression. There doesn’t seem to be much faith that the M.D. will be getting better policing for the extra money they’ll be paying.
“I don’t have an issue with paying our way,” said councillor Pearson. “However, I’d like that money not to disappear.”
What he’d like to see, Pearson continued, is “money from here stays in our detachment and not disappear into general revenue of Alberta.”
Councillor Esau agreed: “We’re not here to tax Slave Lake to enhance Edmonton,” he said.
There appear to be no guarantees.
“Extra officers will be hired where the need is the highest,” said reeve Kerik.
Guaranteeing the rescue boat
Fundraising for a new rescue boat for the Lesser Slave Lake Regional Fire Service is well underway, council heard. The firefighters’ society has nearly $110,000 of the estimated $149,000 cost in the bank and will come up with the rest. But it needs to order the boat and needs a municipal guarantee to cover the remaining portion of the price if it isn’t raised by the time of delivery. The risk to the M.D. is minimal, Winarski assured council.
Council approved the request.
The existing rescue boat is being sold to the M.D. of Opportunity for $8,000.
Welcome to the world of field services
The new director of field services, Ryan Tufts, introduced himself to council and vice versa. On the job only a couple of weeks, he said he’d been around to all points of the M.D., seeing pretty much all there is to see. He’s also been familiarizing himself with “how we organize our work and how we prioritize things.”
Speaking of which, councillor Pearson asked about the M.D.’s ‘action tracker’ service. This is where you put in a request for action online and are supposedly able to track the progress on it. He said he’d done such a request about a culvert in Canyon Creek and the follow-up leaves something to be desired.
Stepping in, Marvin Schneider said he’s aware of the culvert, but there are higher priority items than that one.
Following up, CAO Allan Winarski said there have been 700 complaints of that type this year already, following a year where 796 items were processed.
“I can assure you these guys are hopping,” he said.
Pearson said he didn’t doubt it; he just wants the action tracker system to provide a bit more feedback.
Tufts said he thinks it can improve. He said it “looks a bit like a black hole.”
Up with the fees for assessment complaints
If you have a beef about your property value assessment in the M.D., it will cost you more. Council approved a bylaw amendment that included a new schedule of fees. Other municipalities are charging the maximum, said the report in council’s package; we should too.
Fees are necessary because of costs associated with appeals, which includes paying for appeal board services.
Fees are as follows: $50 for residential property of three or fewer dwellings and farmland.; $650 for residential with four or more dwellings; $650 for non-residential; $650 for linear property; $50 for business tax; $30 for tax notices; $650 for designated industrial property; $50 for ‘other’ industrial property; $650 for equalized assessment.
Tax penalty bylaw
Council passed the usual tax penalty bylaw – the only difference with it this time around is the dates have to be changed to reflect the extension to the deadline. Instead of the usual deadline of the end of June, due to the COVID pandemic, council granted til Sept. 30 to get taxes paid.
Councillor Acton asked if passing the bylaw now wasn’t premature. Should we finalize it in December?
We don’t want to miss it on the books, said Winarski. It can be reassessed.