June 6, 2017
Complaints and concerns
Councillor Joy McGregor had a longer-than-usual list of topics she’d been hearing complaints about and passed them on to town manager Brian Vance in the form of questions.
For example: who’s responsible for cutting the grass at a couple of closed hotels in town?
Answer: the property owners
Follow-up question: What if they aren’t doing it? Answer: We send them a letter.
The same goes for vacant lots. Vance acknowledged it is quite difficult, in some cases, to achieve compliance. The town does not have the right to simply enter the property and do the work. That’s trespassing. There is a legal process and it can be lengthy and costly.
“One we enforced last year cost us thousands of dollars before we were done,” Vance said.
McGregor had a similar question about a certain former apartment site in the southeast part of town she’s been hearing complaints about. She heard town administration has been in contact with the responsible persons and action has been promised.
McGregor brought up a new crosswalk on 6th Ave. SE. Drivers don’t seem to be aware of it, she said. Trees need to be cut back so they can see the signs. It also needs to be painted on the street.
The line-painters will get to it, Vance said. They’re starting in the downtown area this year and working their way outward.
Parking in the ditch by Sinclair Fields continues, McGregor said, despite plenty of publicity about it being forbidden. It’s up to the RCMP to enforce it, said mayor Warman.
“We’re looking into ‘no-parking’ signs,” Vance said. (They’ve been ordered.)
Finally, McGregor asked if anything is planned for the dip in the sidewalk near 7-11 that fills up with water and mud and causes trouble for people in wheelchairs, or on rollerblades or skateboards. It’s on the ‘to-do’ list for sidewalk repairs this summer, said project manager Doug Baird.
Development permits issued
In Vance’s report for council was the news that development permits have been issued for an industrial shop and a church. What church is that? he was asked.
“The Jehovah’s Witnesses,” said Vance. “They’re tearing down their old church and building a new one.”
Sewage lagoon expense looming
The town is looking at a $12 million sewage treatment upgrade to meet the new provincial standards. Paying for it could chew up a good half of the towns cash reserves.
However, as project manager Doug Baird reminded council, there is no choice in the matter. When it comes to phosphorus and nitrogen content in town effluent under the existing treatment regime, “We’re running right on the cusp of being in violation.”
The plan is to re-do the aeration system among other upgrades. Proposed is $1 million worth of work this year ($200,000 in engineering and the rest in actual construction), followed by $10 million next year. If that results in acceptable readings, a further $2.5 million in work can be avoided.
Grants cover half the total project cost. Borrowing is being contemplated for a big chunk of the rest of it, and could add $12 per utility bill, per month for several years. However, “borrowing is a worst-case scenario,” said CAO Brian Vance, adding that further grants are possible.
Hwy. 88 speed limit
Mayor Warman asked Vance what’s happening with the topic of restoring the 80 kph speed limit on Hwy. 88 through town. Vance said his understanding from earlier discussions was that it was on hold, pending Alberta Transportation’s decision on alterations to that stretch of highway. Further, Vance said, he recalled council saying it didn’t want to raise the speed limit while the walking trail crossed the railway tracks so close to the highway.
“We haven’t pursued it,” he said.
Warman’s recollection was different. He made a motion to restore the 80 kph limit between the bridge over Sawridge Creek and Hwy. 2. It was carried by a 5 – 1 vote, with councillor Mark Missal opposed.
Year-end looks good
Council received the town’s annual report from its auditor. Allen Grykuliak of Doyle & Co. provided a very short version, having earlier spent an hour-and-a-half going over the details with council. The highlights were that when it comes to the town’s financial controls, he had “no recommendations for improvement,” adding, “the books are in very good condition.”
Grykuliak further noted that town reserves were up from the previous year, indicating a strong financial position.
Thanking Grykuliak for his work, mayor Warman added, “I couldn’t imagine a better spot for us to be in.”
Traffic safety plan
Council approved a new traffic safety plan for a three-year period. It contains information on zones in need of automated traffic enforcement, as determined by the RCMP, in consultation with the town’s bylaw enforcement department. It also sets out a goal of a 10 per cent reduction in motor vehicle accidents. Other goals include increased awareness of the need for helmets for kids on bikes and general awareness of traffic safety.
Trends mentioned in the report include an increase in unregistered vehicles in the past year or so; at the same time, the number of traffic violations per hour has gone down since 2015. This is attributed to the presence of the automated traffic enforcement.
Councillors had questions and comments. One, from Julie Brandle, was about whether the enforcement zones advertised weekly in The Leader indicate the only places enforcement will happen that week. No, said Rolfe; there can be changes.
Missal: “We brought this in to change drivers’ habits and I think it’s working.”
Councillor Darin Busk said he has mixed feelings about the program. He’s all for improving safety, he said, but if it gets to the point where local drivers are behaving and the big majority of tickets are going to people from out of town, it’s time to re-assess it. As it stands, about 70 per cent of the tickets are to out-of-town drivers.
Missal asked about the photo enforcement being used to target distracted drivers.
“It’s held up at the ministerial level,” said Rolfe. Some lobbying might be in order, she added.
Timing not right for rec. board
Noting a certain lack of enthusiasm in certain quarters for the creation of a parks, recreation and culture board, Rolfe said her recommendation was to not go ahead with it.
The idea had been to create a board that could hear proposals from community groups; perhaps also to do some of the work in organizing community events, thus taking some of the load off council and town staff.
But administration isn’t totally behind it, Rolfe said, and M.D. council had recently declined to participate.
Council voted to accept the report as information. Councillor Busk voted against that motion; he was the one who had proposed the formation of the board in the first place.
Closing Main St.
It turns out when the Slave Lake airport was built back in the 1960s, cutting Main St. into two pieces, the street through the airport was never formally closed. It’s been on the books as an existing roadway all this time, but the Airport Authority has recently discovered its existence and thinks it’s time to shut it down. Accordingly, council had a request to do that.
There’s a process involved in closing registered roads. Council gave first reading to the required bylaw change; a public hearing is next. Assuming there’s no great outcry of opposition, it will then receive final approval from council. Then the town informs Alberta Land Titles and it gets taken off the books. The final step would be for the land in question to be consolidated into the airport lands.
Council gave first reading to a bylaw change that would (if it passes) allow Dog Island Brewing Company to set up a patio at its Caribou Trail location. This had been discussed at an earlier hearing, but not resolved and was not part of the bylaw change that added breweries and distilleries as permitted uses in the M1 – Light Industrial District.
Outdoor patios are generally not allowed in industrial zones. An exception – raised by the proponents at the May 2 meeting – is Lacombe, where they said one has been approved and is working well.
In the meantime, planning and development director Laurie Skrynyk did some research on that item and found out the patio had been installed without permission and received it after the fact. The same went for the brewery itself – which seems to be a recurring phenomenon.
However, the Lacombe development officer told Skrynyk he or she “would not recommend,” doing it in Slave Lake. Lacombe is already receiving complaints about it, said Skrynyk’s written report.
The public hearing for the bylaw change is scheduled for July 4.
Land exchange idea dies young
Council re-visited the concept of a three-way land exchange that had been proposed recently by a representative of the Koinonia Christian School. The end goal of the proposal was to acquire land for expansion of the school. But a major player in the scheme was the High Prairie School Division, which would have given up some of its E.G. Wahlstrom property (to the town) and received some in exchange in the Gloryland area at its future school site.
However, as Skrynyk reported to council, the HPSD isn’t interested in either the giving or receiving part of the proposal. That effectively kills it as far as the town is concerned, Skrynyk said, since that rules out a major component.
It doesn’t rule out the school from acquiring land to the north of its current location by other means. The old Fish & Wildlife/Forestry building and land on 4th Ave. NE is unused and will eventually become available for purchase. Skrynyk told council the province is going through a process that it expects will result in the property being declared ‘surplus,’ and being put up for sale at market value. The town has first right of refusal on it.
At this point, councillor Julie Brandle said the Housing Authority (on which she sits) has expressed an interest in the land, for future seniors’ housing needs.
“We’re stating our interest,” she said.
“I’d support anything that Housing feels is right for it,” said mayor Warman.
Council passed a motion to notify the proponent of the land swap that the town is not interested in pursuing it.
Plans for former Husky building
The office building that formerly housed Husky Energy (and Unocal before that) is empty and the owner would like to make it available for non-industrial use. As it’s in an industrial area, this requires a zoning change. Council gave first reading to the necessary bylaw change.
Husky had its offices in the building for the past 15 years or so, but recently closed it down. In the BI – Business Industrial District – only approved industrial uses are permitted, council was informed.
The required public hearing on the bylaw change is scheduled for July 4.
As usual council has a reduced number of meetings in July and August. After a bit of wrangling, they settled on July 4 and 11 and Aug. 15 and 22.
Warman reported on the “great job” done by the logger sports organizers.
“I hope they make it into an annual event,” he said.
Other mayoral activities in the previous week included a ‘mock’ council meeting with Grade 6 students, which Warman said “is always fun.”
Councillor Brice Ferguson stood in for the mayor at the St. Francis of Assisi graduation ceremony on June 3, at which he made a short speech.
Warman noted that councillors Brandle and Busk had helped out at Tim Hortons for ‘Camp Day.’
Warman’s final note: “We’ll be looking for a new economic development officer.” The current holder of that position has accepted a job in British Columbia, he said.
‘Show some pride’
Councillor Busk said he’d been hearing from residents who think the town should be flying more flags. Canadian flags, that is, in recognition and celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.
“Let’s show some pride,” he urged.
So how much do you want to spend? asked mayor Warman.
Busk made a motion to take $5,000 out of a surplus account “to show some community spirit.”
Councillor Ferguson had other ideas.
“It’s a little late in the game to be doing that,” he said.
However, his was the only dissenting vote, as Busk’s motion was carried.
Councillor Busk raised the matter of the absence of the deputy mayor – councillor Philip Lokken – for the next couple of weeks. Should we appoint somebody to serve in that role until he returns? Having asked the question, Busk then got the job via a council motion – until the 21st of this month.