Jan. 12, 2022 meeting
Councillor Sandra Melzer had asked at a previous meeting for clarification on what the term ‘tourism readiness and development means.’ CAO Barb Miller was back with the goods.
Tourism readiness for the M.D. consists of seven “high-priority initiatives,” said Miller in her report. These come under three main headings, as follows:
- Renegotiating the operating agreement for the Slave Lake visitor information centre (with the Town of Slave Lake).
- Negotiating partnerships with Alberta Environment and the Town of Slave Lake on Devonshire Beach and other areas
- Operational issues, including a boat launch (which one not specified), service level standards (for what not specified) and beautification partnerships.
Councillor Brad Pearson spoke up for the need to strategize on tourism priorities in the M.D., “so we know where this boat is going.”
After hours phone response
It came to light over the holidays that the M.D.’s on-call phone service had some gaps. There is a system, and it mostly works, Miller said, making the report to council. But there were some gaps and those took everybody by surprise when their existence was revealed. Apparently, some “programming issues,” combined with some assumptions that were not correct caused it to happen.
“We need to do some programming in the background of our phone system,” Miller said.
PERC and BIRC
When it comes to delinquent oilfield property taxes, the province has a couple of programs for municipalities to get some relief. How it works is council has to write off the balance owing, and then apply for the credits under the PERC (Provincial Education Requisition Credit) and DIRC (Designated Industrial Requisition Credit) programs.
Accordingly, council approved the write-off of $46,210.65, and applied for credits against that amount of $9,520 (representing the education portion of the delinquent amount) and $191.25 under DIRC.
A second motion canceled a $5,545 penalty amount on the unpaid taxes.
This led to the related question about liability for abandoned wells. Councillor Norm Seatter said active companies pay into a fund that is (or will be) used to clean up abandoned sites.
How many such sites do we have in the M.D., was councillor Darren Fulmore’s question. Nobody knew the answer.
The final comment went to councillor Pearson. “It’s common knowledge the orphan well association is underfunded,” he said.
Another write-off recommendation before council had to do with unpaid debts, most of them on utility accounts. Writing these off after a certain amount of time has passed is considered the right thing to do.
The total to be written off was $6,724. Of this, $6,443 was from 13 utility accounts and the remaining $241 was something called a ‘trade account.”
Details on each delinquent account were provided in an appendix, with reasons for the write-off recommendation included. For the trade account the reason is ‘no longer in business.’
One of the utility amounts raised a few eyebrows around the council table. It was for $1,929, owed by a renter ‘who moved out and can’t be found.’
Councillor Brad Pearson said something along the lines that the M.D. should be billing the property owners, not the tenant, or maybe not just the tenants. Perhaps he’d heard about the Town of Slave Lake moving to that system in recent years, with good results.
Other reasons for calling it quits on bad debts included in the report: ‘no working phone number,’ ‘renter passed away in 2019,’ ‘claimed bankruptcy.’
Council voted in favour of the recommended motion.
STARS requests funding
At the top of council’s agenda was a presentation by STARS Air Ambulance. It was a request for funding, at the rate of $2 per capita from the M.D. See the story on Page 3 of this week’s Leader.
No tax auction this year
Council was all set to approve the reserve bid amount on the auction of a Southshore property for unpaid taxes. The full report was in the agenda package; all it needed was a motion from council.
But M.D. director of finance Jenny Tu informed council right off the bat that the tax sale was off the table, an arrangement for payment having been made.
Specifics on the property were not provided, apart from the amount owing in taxes ($3,591) and the recommended reserve bid ($116,000).
The condition of Hwy. 88
Councillor Norm Seatter had the state of Hwy. 88 put on the agenda as a discussion point. Or at least a certain section of it, which he described as being from the “(Lesser) Slave River to Lily Creek.” Traffic on the highway has “doubled or tripled” in the past couple of months, Seatter said, and with “no shoulders to work with” log haulers are hugging the centre of the road, increasing the hazard to other road users.
“It’s an unsafe highway,” he said. “I’d like to push back on this.”
Further pressing the case, Seatter said he figured the number of accidents on that stretch of 88 “rivals anything in Canada.”
Councillor Melzer suggested it be brought up at the next Rural Municipalities Association (RMA) get-together, which is often attended by government ministers. Councillor Fulmore had another idea.
Let’s set up a Zoom meeting with the minister or deputy minister, he said. Meetings with ministers at the RMA are usually so brief not a lot can be accomplished. A dedicated meeting would allow the M.D. to get into the issue deeper, and raise other ones. Such as? Such as the bridge over the Athabasca River, which is “falling apart,” Fulmore said.
Council passed two motions on the topic. One was to send a letter (“Strongly worded!” said reeve Kerik) to the relevant authorities, asking for action on Hwy. 88. The second was to seek a meeting with the minister or with somebody from Alberta Transportation as close to the minister as possible, to discuss the issue.
Restrictions and M.D. facilities
Having a restrictions exemption program in place for M.D. facilities has some drawbacks, and councillor Nancy Sand wanted to talk about it.
“I didn’t realize it would prevent our community groups from holding their monthly meetings,” she said.
We’re not stopping the meetings, responded CAO Barb Miller. “It’s really the members’ choice.”
Councillor Fulmore said there are other ways of dealing with the situation that would allow more flexibility.
“I’m not afraid to do what Jason Kenney does and change my mind,” he said, suggesting more research be done and the matter brought back to council for a decision. Miller said maybe they could get an AHS authority to attend a council meeting.
“If we don’t say ‘no,’” said councillor Seatter, “where does it stop?” He suggested sending a letter to the authorities might be in order.
“I don’t think a letter is going to do much,” said councillor Pearson.
Lawrence Lake re-zoning approved
Council gave second and third readings to a bylaw amendment that changes the zoning on a lot at Lawrence Lake from agricultural to residential un-serviced. The owners hope to subdivide the 50-acre parcel and sell it off as smaller lots.
At the public hearing that preceded the decision, nobody spoke against the proposal. Council heard the title on the lot dates back to 1915. It is mostly forested and is considered not good for agriculture. It is partly on a peninsula jutting out into the lake.