Nov. 13, 2018 meeting
Assessor on the grill
Council spent over an hour hearing how property value assessment is carried out and questioning the messenger. Kevin Lawrence of KCL Consulting didn’t manage to get through his slide show, because two or three council members have concerns or reservations or outright skepticism about how assessment is done.
“I always struggle with your assessment of market value,” said councillor Julie Brandle, “because it differs so much from mine.”
Lawrence defended the method, which he termed ‘mass-appraisal.’
“We’re looking at what has happened (sales-wise),” he said. “Not what might happen.”
The burr under mayor Tyler Warman’s saddle was ‘machinery and equipment’ assessment. Apparently outfits like KCL are being urged by the province to take a detailed inventory of items that are “integral to the process,” of production of something. Assessment of such items for tax purposes is not new; apparently what’s new is a push from the government for more detail. Some companies are getting requests for inventory of machinery and equipment aren’t happy about it.
“It feels like we’re stacking value,” Warman said. “We hear some push-back.”
Warman then asked if municipalities have some leeway in this area. You don’t, said Lawrence. It’s a provincial requirement.
“What if a business doesn’t give you this information?” Warman asked.
“We have to estimate it based on the information we have,” Lawrence said.
A new feature of council’s second meeting of the month is to hold it at 1:00 p.m. instead of the usual 7:00 p.m. The main reason is to facilitate the participation of senior staff members in discussions about various topics. High on the agenda at the first one was the town’s strategic planning. Leading off the discussion, mayor Warman asked for feedback on items that came out of a strat planning session back in September.
“How do we grow Slave Lake by 100 people?” he asked.
One way is by doing a better job of selling the community. Various ideas were tossed around.
The elephant in the room, of course, was the stark reality that doing more requires more money. And more money means higher taxes, probably. And nobody wants to go there.
Councillor Darin Busk said he hears things like this: “I pay a ton of taxes and what do I get for it?” He added: “We have to do a better job of communicating our successes.”
Warman said there are two ways for a municipality to do business: one is ‘status quo,’ meaning we do exactly what we did last year. The other is to make things better. Council is in the ‘make things better’ camp, he said, but acknowledged the basic dilemma, i.e. where does the money come from to make things better.
“The challenge we’re having is where do we find efficiencies? We’re having difficulty with that. We’re 50 hours into budget discussions already.”
Warman urged staff members to share ideas they may have on how to do things better.
A new backhoe is in the budget this year. The bids are in and Finning had the best one. Council accordingly approved the purchase of the Cat unit for $141,500 base price, plus options and warranty for a total of $172,870, which is a bit under budget.
Brian Vance informed council the regional water line is “still working through their issues,” which include pushing pigs through the new line.
As previously reported, the 5th Ave. NW project is shut down until the spring, when the asphalt is to be applied. Same goes for the sewage lagoon project – it’s winding down and will resume when warm weather returns next year.
Councillor Joy McGregor passed on several items of concern she had heard from residents – mainly to do with snow removal and pedestrian safety. One had to do with the sidewalk next to Tim Hortons, which she said has not been cleared.
“Who’s responsible?” she asked.
Vance said he didn’t know, but would look into it.
McGregor said certain busy crosswalks in town are causing concerns, due to slippery conditions. People are afraid cars are going to be unable to stop and slide right through the crosswalks when people are in them.
McGregor’s last item was about a curfew bylaw. If there is one but it isn’t enforced, should it be reviewed and dealt with? Further, she said, “Should we go through bylaws and see if they are necessary?”
Vance said there are a lot of outdated ones. There had been a process in place of bringing them forward one at a time for review, and that is being revived.
Housing – Lots of meeting lately, said councillor Brandle, including ones on budget. There will be no requisition change again this year, making it five straight years like that. No rent increases either, but there will be an $8 carbon tax levy put on lodge tenants’ bills. This is the housing authority’s solution to the dilemma created by the tenants getting the carbon tax rebate, but their landlord having to pay the utilities.
In other housing news, Brandle said the apartment project is still on the table, with $5.8 million available. It’s meant to be “sea can construction,” she said, and won’t necessarily be the 40 units previously mentioned.
Tri-council health – Councillor McGregor said there was talk at the meeting about doing something to counter “Facebook issues.” This would be negative chatter online about health care services in Slave Lake. – wait times and such. They came up with a plan to do a series of videos on health care topics.
Speaking of wait times, the average lately has been six days to get an appointment with a doctor and seven days for a nurse practitioner. There were 4,427 visits to the Family Care Clinic in October, with around 40 per cent of those being with NPs. Eight hundred forty-eight of them were walk-ins. There was a 5.2 per cent no show rate.
Municipal Planning Commission – councillor Rebecca King said the MPC recently approved discretionary uses for a fitness business and a martial arts studio. It also approved another cannabis store, which intends to locate in the Cornerstone shopping centre.