March 9, 2022 meeting
Someone in the Hondo area has applied to subdivide a piece of property and have the zoning changed from agricultural to residential un-serviced. Council gave first reading to the necessary bylaw change and set a public hearing date (required) for April 13, 2022.
The property is located on Range Road 254, near the Athabasca River.
Policy tweak for Community Assistance Board
Back in February, council had asked for a change to the policy regarding the obligations of those applying for Community Assistance Board (CAB) grants. The idea then was that the groups should provide a statement of financial position with an application.
It turned out that would be onerous for some of the groups, which can barely be described as ‘groups.’ The alternative would be to require statement of financial position, or if not possible, a copy of the most recent bank statement.
Another amendment council agreed on had to do with the deadline for reporting. It had been Dec. 31, but it was pointed out that for the last round of grants that wouldn’t provide enough time. Council settled on “on Dec. 31, or within 30 days of the project end date.”
Council approved the recommended changes.
The great grader debate
The M.D. is due for a new grader. The question before council was whether to spend 500-some grand on a brand new one, or pick up a used one just then available from Ritchie Brothers for $360,000.
Councillor Brad Pearson led the charge against buying the second-hand unit.
“If it was 1,000 hours – no brainer,” he said. “But over 3,000 hours. We’re not solving our problem. My vote is for a new one.”
The M.D. policy is to replace graders after five years or 5,000 hours, whichever comes first. However, in practice, it appears they often run them up to 7,500 hours. Given that, councillor Norm Seatter had done some calculating of his own. The depreciation rate would be pretty much the same (he figured $55 an hour) one way or the other.
“I don’t see us losing anything,” he said.
The other factor that may have swayed a majority of councillors to the used grader option was the lag time between ordering and receiving a new one. September at the earliest, they heard.
“We need it now,” said reeve Kerik.
The M.D. expects to get $160,000 for the unit that’s being replaced.
Council approved the purchase of the $360,000 unit, with Pearson opposed.
Council chatted about ways rural internet service might be improved. There are various options, all of which cost a fair amount of cash. The newest of these is Starlink. The equipment is $629 and the monthly fee is $129. It relies on a series of low-orbit satellites and has fewer lag-time issues than ones that rely on high-altitude satellites. However, Flatbush is at the extreme northern edge of its range, although that could change.
This information was shared by the M.D.’s senior project accountant Byron Nagazina, who seems to know a thing or two about broadband.
Nagazina said probably the most reliable option is via fibre in the ground. It runs through or near most M.D. communities, and the so-called ‘final mile’ connections can be made.
“But it’s not a cheap thing,” he said.
Council directed administration to bring a report with recommendations.
Nagazina wasn’t done there. He’d been looking into options for buying electricity and had a suggestion for council. An outfit called Energy Associates International (EAI) “saved us a ton of money,” he said, when he worked for the town of Drumheller.
What the M.D. would be doing otherwise is joining up with the Rural Municipalities of Alberta bulk-buying scheme, which has resulted in better prices too. But EAI can do even better, taking advantage of spot prices and so on.
“Over the five-year contract in Drumheller we saved $600,000,” Nagazina said.
Council made a motion directing admin. to bring back a report for decision, with all the options laid out.
Canyon Creek marina and campgrounds
“It’s all in the works,” CAO Kolenosky told council, regarding the operation of the marina and campgrounds in Canyon Creek this coming season.
How it will work is the M.D. retains ownership, and the Canyon Creek Community Association will look after operations and maintenance. Reservations are already being taken.
“We might have to kick in some seed money,” Kolenosky said.
Looking for a lower speed limit in Smith
Some people in Smith are worried about the safety of kids on a stretch of street not far from the Smith School. The speed limit there is 50, and they’d like it reduced to 30.
One suggestion is to call the area a playground and impose a new speed limit accordingly.
Council heard that according to the bylaw, there isn’t actually any official school zone in Smith.
Council asked for a report covering the entire M.D., identifying where playground speed zones might be needed.
South Shore pump maintenance
Back for another round of discussion was the topic of maintenance of sewer pumps in the South Shore hamlets. The push from administration has been for more responsibility to shift onto the property owners and less on M.D. utilities department staff. The report this time was an attempt to propose some kind of acceptable balance.
Removing and installing grinder pumps is taking up far too much of utilities operators time, council has heard. Other duties as a result are being neglected; so is training.
Council settled on a blend of strategies, including an effort to educate owners about basic maintenance, engaging contractors to do the work and budgeting for a couple more staff members in the utilities department. Homeowners will have to bear more of the costs than previously.
Agricultural Service Board: raccoons arrive
Councillor Fulmore reported that raccoons have been spotted in Flatbush and Hondo areas. Apparently this is something new.
The ASB chose not to approve a recommendation that wild pigs be “taken out in whole groups,” by hiring hunters and trappers to do that.
Waste management: revenue up
Good news from the Lesser Slave landfill is the need for a new cell is now nine years off, instead of the three or four that had been predicted.
Last year was a good one, revenue-wise. CAO Kolenosky said it was up $600,000, and the budget would be balanced.
On the Athabasca side, councillor Sand said the commission lost money on a truckload of “large plastics” it sent to a facility in Lethbridge. They sent half of it back because it wasn’t clean enough.
Brand new appointee Norm Seatter said he “didn’t realize what he was getting into,” and that there is “a commendable amount of work being done,” in the way of testing, analyzing and education. He also mentioned the Elliott and Rosche Scholarship, named in honour of two former long-time members of the Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council.
“I was quite surprised and pleased,” he said.
As for the Athabasca Watershed Council, appointee Nancy Sand said she hadn’t heard from them.
Peace Library System: status quo
Brad Pearson said government funding for the organization is staying the same this year. A grant intended to stimulate use of library services by Indigenous communities is still there, unallocated.
“Communities aren’t tapping into it,” he said.
Seniors and housing: pushback predicted
“A big, hot topic,” said councillor Sand, reporting on this committee. However, she turned the floor over to Brad Pearson to talk about the government wanting municipalities to do a needs assessment on housing. This is apparently to qualify for government money for new housing units. Pearson’s view is that housing authorities should be doing it, not municipalities.
The other hot news out of the housing board is the government is “telling us our boards are not competent,” Pearson continued. “They want accountants; they want lawyers. There’s going to be some pushback.”