Cost-cutting – council talks about reducing rec facility hours, closing recycling centre and advertising differently

Town of Slave Lake Council notebook

Jan. 8, 2018 meeting

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Council had a lively discussion on several ideas for cutting budget costs.
They ranged from getting rid of traditional methods of advertising to cutting hours at the MRC and pool.

Included was the notion of closing the recycling centre.

The proposals were not brand new. They had been made in budget deliberations late last year. Before making decisions, council decided a public survey was in order. The results of that were in.

In short, a majority of respondents were in favour of dropping the newspaper ads, if it means saving the town money. An even bigger majority of respondents said chuck the radio advertising if it saves money.

The proposed alternative to both of those is an electronic town newsletter, which council heard has already been launched and sent to 110 subscribers.

Councillors were generally in favour of the move; they also spoke up in favour of retaining the option of advertising in the local newspaper.

It should be noted that the town’s contract with the Lakeside Leader that provides free subscriptions to ratepayers ends on Feb. 1.

Moving on, the proposal is to chop the early morning hours from the multi-rec centre. It is lightly used, council heard, and it would save the town $5,500 to open at 8:00 a.m. Seventy-five per cent of survey respondents were okay with doing that. Not all councillors were, though. Councillor Brice Ferguson said the cost-saving wasn’t enough to justify the inconvenience for users, in his view.

“If we’re going to keep it open I would like to see more happening there,” said councillor Joy McGregor.

Apparently, aside from the small number of walkers, there just isn’t much interest.

As for the swimming pool, the number of early-morning users is bigger, and they are paying for its use. More users, more revenue – let’s leave it alone, said councillor Darin Busk.

Ferguson said he liked the idea of having the pool open early two days a week. Councillor Rebecca King agreed.

Changing the opening time from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on weekdays would save the town approximately $25,000 per year, council heard.

Recycling centre
The town could save about $55,000 per year if it closed the recycling centre by the airport. It had been suggested as being a redundant service, given that curbside recycling is in place, and the option of driving materials to the regional landfill is also there.

However, councillor McGregor pointed out that the curbside program doesn’t collect everything (notably glass), and that some people don’t have the means to carry their brush and clippings out to the landfill.

“Get rid of it,” said councillor Ferguson. “It’s fairly redundant.”

“It’s redundant that we’re paying two recycling fees,” said councillor King, adding that apartment buildings should have their own recycling centres.
She said she’s also in favour of closing the town’s recycling depot.

But survey respondents said they want to keep it, pointed out councillor Busk. In fact 64.6 per cent of respondents said ‘no’ to the question, ‘Do you think the recycling centre should be shut down in order to save costs?’

“For right now let’s leave it in,” said mayor Warman, closing the discussion.

One reason he didn’t want to make a decision on the spot was that two councillors were not present. Warman told The Leader subsequently that at a final budget meeting later this month, with all present, these items will be hashed out and decided upon.

But it looks as if council is leaning pretty strongly toward the later opening times at the MRC, and maintaining the early ones at the pool. As for the recycling centre….stay tuned.

Looking for a way to accommodate a business move

These things keep coming up. Somebody has a business idea; council wants to help facilitate it (why wouldn’t they?), but the zoning doesn’t permit the proposed use.
What’s proposed in the current case is a passenger and freight bus terminal in the downtown area. The C1 District doesn’t include that. An application to change the zoning is made, council gives it first reading and a public hearing is held.
That’s the scenario. The company is Cold Shot, currently operating out of the truckstop on the east side of town. The person operating the Slave Lake depot for Cold Shot wants to move into downtown. The proposed location is in the Plaza 2000 on 2nd Ave. NW.
The public hearing began with the planning department informing council the Municipal Planning Commission had reviewed the application and was opposed to it. The planning department’s recommendation was also to deny the application, because it doesn’t fit in the zone. If the use is added for that site, it would apply to the entire district. Other municipalities contacted do not allow such uses in their downtown areas. And so on.
Speaking up for the application was Falon Holewa, the Cold Shot agent for Slave Lake. She said the bus is small – nine passengers – and would not get bigger than a 19-passenger unit. No full-sized coaches are contemplated. Plaza 2000 owner Ali Mouallem said he anticipates no parking issues and no safety problems. He cited examples of much bigger vehicles loading and unloading in the downtown area. Looking at it from another point of view, Mouallem said having a bus depot downtown would serve the purpose of exposing the downtown to out-of-town people that otherwise might not see it.
Councillor Brice Ferguson asked if the bylaw change could include height and length restrictions. No, he was told. That would require another change to the bylaw, creating new definitions.
Another possibility is to shift the property in question into the ‘Council Direct Control’ category of zoning. This is a sort of flanking maneuver that allows council in special circumstances to accommodate some proposal without changing the general zoning (or violating it). It also allows council to impose special conditions. This was done in the case of the Yamaha shop, located in the same part of town a year or two ago.
Council made no decision on the matter. It did ask administration to bring back a proposal on limiting the size of vehicles in such a situation. This is based on the assumption council wants to approve the application, against the advice of the department and the MPC.

Water meter replacements

CAO Brian Vance reported that about 700 water meters (or at least the pertinent part of them) have been replaced so far. He expects the pace to pick up over the next while.

Main St. north water line

Work on this project has just recently re-commenced. All customers have been re-connected, Vance reported. Left to complete are connections on the M.D. section (which isn’t up to the town), a hydrant on Tamarack Rd. and a tie-in at Tamarack and Balsam Rd, to complete the loop.

Committee of the Whole meeting times

Council’s experiment with holding the middle of its three monthly meetings in the afternoon was up for review. Some councillors were fonder of it than others. The main reason for doing it was to make it easier for department managers to attend.
Reactions from councillors were mixed, but they decided to keep doing it until June.
That accomplished, mayor Warman proposed a shift of the other two evening meetings to a 6:00 p.m. start, from the usual 7:00 p.m. He got some strong pushback from councillor Ferguson on that, and withdrew the motion.
“I’m going to bring it up again,” he promised.

Hours of operation may be changing.

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