It’s all about economic development
Asking a politician to go out on a limb and make predictions might be a waste of time. But Slave Lake’s mayor Tyler Warman is usually more willing than most to do that sort of thing.
Warman won’t go so far as to say whether he will run again (municipal elections are in the fall), but he does sound pretty confident about the 2021 budget, predicting it will be “very fair.
“I don’t expect a lot of surprises there,” Warman says, “For council or the public.”
Two other topics are high on the Warman agenda for 2021: economic development and getting to know the neighbours.
These neighbours come in two categories: Treaty 8 members and municipalities. Warman says the ‘reaching out’ process is underway and he expects meetings to take place in the new year.
“We recognize the benefits of working with our neighbours,” he says.
As to what form that ‘working together’ might take, Warman says it will depend on how the discussions go. But he points to the ongoing success of the Regional Tri-Council relationship as an example of how it could be. The tri-council is made up of Slave Lake, the M.D. of Lesser Slave River and the Sawridge First Nation. Those three councils started meeting after the 2011 Slave Lake wildfires and have kept it up. Expanding that concept to include more government bodies in the region could be beneficial, Warman figures.
There are common issues, he says. As an example, “Maybe it’s as simple as us getting together and saying (to the province) – ‘Fix Highway 88!’”
Economic development could have opportunities for collaboration, but for now the town is going it alone. Look for things to happen on that front in 2021, Warman says.
“I think by mid-2021 you’ll start to see things rolling out.”
No details. Incentives are a possibility, but the town doesn’t have a lot of money to be giving away to induce businesses to locate here or expand. Connecting businesses with federal and provincial stimulus cash is one thing, Warman says, and providing other types of support. Selling Slave Lake as a good place to do business, live and raise a family is another. Things are in the works.
Another example of what a municipality can do to stimulate business, says the mayor, is to identify gaps and try to talk businesses into filling them. Slave Lake was without an appliance repair service for six or seven years, he says. If somebody (say a town ec/dev officer) had gone to work on that, “I bet we would have had one in six months,” he says.
Having said all that, Warman adds he thinks Slave Lake is in better shape than a lot of other communities, economically speaking.
“Forestry is strong and there is life in oil and gas out there.”
Revenue uncertainty for the M.D
So….what’s 2021 looking like for the M.D. of Lesser Slave River? At the moment, uncertainty about revenue is making it look like a year of very modest plans.
“Probably not a whole lot of activity,” was how Reeve Murray Kerik put it in a phone interview.
The revenue uncertainty arises from provincial government plans to give energy companies a break on linear assessment (I.e., how they are taxed on pipelines and such). Something like 80 per cent of M.D. property taxes come from that source, and the government said last year it would be changing the formula to benefit the companies.
“They’re very liberal with our money,” said Kerik.
The matter still isn’t resolved. Until it is, no municipality that relies on such tax revenue knows exactly where it stands for 2021. However, Kerik said he’s hopeful, given what he’s seen of the new Minister of Municipal Affairs, Tracy Allard.
“She’s got a pretty level head on her,” he said. “I think it’s going to work out.”
Uncertainty aside, the M.D. will be pushing ahead with the Old Smith Highway relocation, Kerik said. That’s been in the works for several years. Held up by the need for more land, he hopes 2021 will see it resolved, “so our old highway doesn’t keep sliding into the river.”
Also moving ahead in 2021 is the review and rewrite of the Land-Use Bylaw. This is the process that involves a lot of consultation with the public. That was all supposed to be wrapped up in 2020, but along came COVID.
“Hopefully we’ll get it cleared up this summer,” said Kerik, calling it a “red-tape reduction,” exercise.
Otherwise, continuous upgrades to public utilities will proceed. Kerik praised the organizational skills of the new director (Ryan Tufts) and predicts improvements in the works. An increased level of road gravelling will continue this year as well.
As far as relations with the neighbours goes, Kerik says things have been pretty good and he anticipates no problems. Good working relations are well established.
“It’s because we talk,” he said. “There’s peace in the valley, which is nice.”