July 2, 2019 meeting
Council’s first meeting of July was unusual in that two well-worn topics did not come up even once: homelessness/vagrancy and rough railway crossings. Potholes – as far as we can recall – were not mentioned either.
As usual, the meeting kicked off with CAO Brian Vance providing council with a few highlights from town activities since the last meeting. One was the Canada Day celebration, which the town organized. It was moved indoors due to the likelihood of rain. Vance called it “a huge success.” Lots of people showed up, he said. “Depending who you talk to, some people said it was better than ever.”
Attempts to promote business and tourism via the front desk operations at the town are proceeding, Vance advised. These include answering questions about matters that don’t necessarily have to do with town business.
“We do get a lot of people stopping in or calling in looking for information,” he said.
This saga has been going on for a long time and is not over. The town has replacement components for faulty water meters it received on warrantee from the provider. It has been replacing them gratis to the customer, but needs an appointment to do it. However, there’s a ‘drop-dead’ date and it has passed. Vance informed council there are about 110 left to change. Of these, 17 are not giving readings.
“A few are tough,” he said. “Some people for whatever reason don’t want us to change them or aren’t interested. We have charged them $300.”
On a related topic, four utility accounts have not been paid up, and their water is going to be cut off. “These are grandfathered renters that we cannot transfer to taxes,” Vance said in his written report.
New future for Lift Station ‘D’
Vance informed council that the town’s most prominent sewage lift station – named ‘D’ – is due for an upgrade. This is the one just off Main St. at the northwest corner of the Ford dealership lot. Lift stations are located around town and serve to speed the sanitary sewer contents along to their destination. Station ‘D’ seems to frequently have problems, judging by how often work crews are on site and ‘doing something’ down the hole. It’s an old one, and is due (maybe overdue) for replacement.
The preliminary plan, Vance said, is to replace it altogether, in a new site.
“We want to move it back behind the Ford area,” he said.
This will happen in 2020 if approved in the budget.
In a follow-up email, Vance told The Leader the reason for moving it closer to the creek is that the intention is to one day connect it to the sewer system in the southeast part of town, for “future capacity and redundancy.”
Ball diamond mowing
Councillor Joy McGregor had a question for town admin. about ball diamond maintenance. And not from the usual people, she said, which is why she was bringing it up. Apparently the grass is too long, and there are some problems with the pitchers’ mounds. With a couple of ball tournaments happening on the weekend, she pointed out, now would be a good time to take a look at it.
Speaking up on it was community services department director Garry Roth. He said the contract calls for twice-per-week mowing, although recent rain may have interfered with that. As for the “repaired areas” where some of the weed problems were noted, “we’re trying to stay ahead of it,” he said. Roth added that the contractor has been made aware of when weekend use of the diamonds is happening.
Siren to be used only for an evacuation
Following up on the report and discussion on the town’s emergency siren from last month, council was asked to approve (or not) the new policy.
It is pretty basic, with two main points. The first is that the siren will only be used when an evacuation order has been issued for the town. Secondly, it won’t be tested when the fire hazard is extreme. There won’t be a full test of the siren until November, when fire season is over.
The policy further states that regular testing may be suspended when it is very cold. Some problems with the siren cropped up this past winter due to the frigidity.
Reminders about the siren will be sent out each year at the start of fire season.
Assessing the pool
An engineering firm has taken a look at the Northern Lights Aquatic Centre to see what’s what. This is apparently something that is done at certain milestones in a building’s life; in this case, 2019 marks the 30th birthday of the structure.
The good news in the report is that the pool is in decent shape. Nothing alarming. However, the consultant recommended upgrades to the tune of $1.65 million.
“Many of the pool components and related equipment are nearing the end of (their) life cycle and will need to be addressed,’ said Mr. Roth in his report for council.
Roth’s report suggested a few other upgrades might be in order. These include replacement of change room lockers, new paint, new features for play and fun and so on. These would push the bill to $3 million.
The cost of replacing the facility altogether with a basic version is estimated at around $10 million.
If the town were to do this, a consideration would be operational costs. These are now shared with the college, but Roth said with a new pool, the town would have to cover all the operations, amounting to about $300,000 more than it spends now, per year.
The plan for now is for the town to talk to the college and develop a strategy from there.
Service levels to drop in planning and development
The town’s planning and development department is losing a third of is manpower. The question before council is if it wants to continue with two people doing the work of three, or replace the departing member. If not, it will have to live with reduced service levels. What would that look like? Department director Laurie Skrynyk had the answers in a report.
As far as service to the public goes, the main difference would be in the maximum time allowed for the town to provide certain documents. This would have to be extended, just in case, Skrynyk told council. These include development permits, subdivision applications, development agreements, certificates of compliance and lot grading certificates.
There’s more. Skrynyk said the department is one of the few in the province that does regular updates of the town’s Land-Use Bylaw. Typically, a municipality will update this vital document every five to 10 years, and hire a consultant to do it. With fewer people on the job, Slave Lake would probably have to do it that way as well.
And another thing. The P&D assistant spends about a third of her time helping out with regional tri-council business, or backing up the executive assistant position doing agenda prep and minutes and such. This can’t continue with the staff reduction and new service levels as proposed.
Councillors had some reservations on the proposal, but ended up voting in favour of it as presented. It passed by a 5 – 2 vote, with councillors Brandle and McGregor opposed.
Nailing down budget sessions
Council had asked to have their fall budgeting sessions penciled in early, so as to be able to plan around them. So admin. proposed a string of nine four and five-hour sessions, starting on Oct. 8 and ending Nov. 19. The only one councillors balked at was a four-hour session on a Saturday – Oct. 19.
“If you’re going to kill our Saturday, kill it all,” said mayor Warman.
Naming industrial areas
Council considered a recommendation from the town’s naming committee to give names to two industrial areas of town. The suggestion is to name the area north of the airport the ‘Boreal Industrial Park,’ and the one south of the airport ‘Caribou Industrial Park.’
Presenting the report, Vance said it would “add a bit more class,” to the area. “Totally your choice,” he added.
Councillors liked the idea, but not the notion of spending much money on signs.
“I wonder about the cost/benefit,” said Warman.
However, council voted in favour of a Rebecca King motion to name the industrial areas as recommended.
Funding agreement on Legacy Centre
How to cover the Legacy Centre’s operating deficit was a question recently hashed out by the town and M.D. at an inter-municipal committee meeting. M.D. council subsequently approved the deal – which stipulates that the share be according to the funding split on other shared-cost facilities. It is based on population sizes and comes in at about 78 per cent for the town and 22 per cent for the M.D.
How much the deficit amounts to depends on the Legacy Centre’s board. There is an endowment fund available, but it has to last at least 10 years. The deficit for 2018 was around $200,000, mayor Warman informed council. This was about $70,000 less than anticipated. With continued good management, it might be even lower in 2019.
“It’s booked out to December,” Warman said. “We are on a good road to not having this deficit.”
But for as long as they do have it, the town and M.D. will continue to cover it, per the noted split.
Council voted in favor of the proposal, with councillor King opposed.
Warman finished off the open part of the meeting with his recap of mayoral activities, which didn’t amount to much. He’s been getting some “customer feedback,” on such topics as roads, garbage and “neighbour’s grass.” There’s also been some “personnel stuff behind the scenes,” going on.
Warman praised town staff for a “great Canada Day,” and said he was looking forward to the Riverboat Daze events of the weekend. Noting that part of downtown is to be shut down to traffic for two days (instead of just one), he said he was “interested to see how that works.”