May 17, 2023 meeting
Truck fill issues
Council got an update on a couple of issues regarding the truck fill in Smith. One had to do with an emergency shut-down on May 6. It caused some concern among water customers and highlighted the need for a policy on providing an alternative; also on making the public aware of what is going on in a situation like that.
So expect to see a policy coming forward for review and approval, council was advised.
The other topic was the new price of $12.50 for every cubic metre of water taken above 45 m3. More than one person has expressed “concerns” over this cost.
The M.D. had set that new higher rate to reflect council’s wish to come closer to cost-recovery on water production. But evidently, it was a guess. A consultant has been hired to find out exactly what a cubic metre of treated water costs. The recommendation for council was to not make any more changes until that study is completed.
Councillors had lots of questions and opinions on that topic. Councillor Darren Fulmore was for backing off from the $12.50 for the time being, say to eight dollars a cube. Not surprisingly, he didn’t get much support from councillor Brad Pearson.
“If you go over the threshold, you pay,” he said. “That’s it.”
At $4.50 per cube, Pearson continued (the price before the 45 m3 threshold) “they’re going to continue to water the herd. They can’t continue to suck water for $4.50.”
Some people are struggling at the $12.50 rate, said councillor Nancy Sand. She was happy to hear the utilities department was committed to working with them until new rates are settled on. Of course the study could find that the $12.50 rate is not excessive, or maybe even not high enough.
One bit of good news was the result of some research of Alberta’s Water Act, which shows that water can be diverted, without a license (temporarily) for “traditional agricultural uses.” That should be welcome information for people hurting from the cost of watering their cows with treated M.D. water.
Councillor Norm Seatter observed that the residential tax base doesn’t begin to cover the cost of making water. Nor should it, said Pearson, because we just don’t have enough people.
Council accepted the report as information.
Groundwater infiltration in South Shore
Another item in the utilities report had to do with groundwater getting into the sewer system in the South Shore area. It’s making the treatment plant work harder than it needs to, and increases wear and tear.
The director told council the water is likely leaking into the system via a few older low-pressure sewer tanks. It needs to be dealt with.
Councillor Pearson agreed, but predicted “heels are going to be dug in.” The M.D. needs to decide what it is going to be asking of its ratepayers, he said.
People are responsible for making sure their tanks aren’t leaking, council heard. The end goal is to have a more efficient system, which everyone should support.
Administration will work up a plan to alleviate the “excessive amount of groundwater infiltration” in the system.
The M.D.’s new human resources manager, Leslie Bensch, reported to council on three policies she is updating. One of these is a transitional housing policy. It deals with how the M.D. manages a couple of units it owns in Smith, with regard to helping new employees with a place to live, temporarily. They could also be rented out, generally, when not needed for employees. But also only temporarily.
“I like the idea!” said councillor Sand.
Councillor Seatter asked if M.D. staff would be looking after lawnmowing and such. Not while they’re rented, said CAO Barry Kolenosky. It’s up to the tenants.
Another policy update had to do with cost-of-living allowances (COLA). The proposal was to automatically adjust salaries each year to keep up with increases in the cost of living, but it didn’t get very far. Council was unanimously opposed to the ‘automatic’ idea.
“Everything fluctuates,” said councillor Lana Spencer. “We don’t want to give people false hopes.”
Instead, council said the matter should be brought to council for consideration at budget time, each year.
M.D. vehicle use by employees
This is something in need of clarification, council was told. Only on-call employees should be taking M.D. vehicles home.
“We need to tighten it up,” said CAO Kolenosky. He added there’s no problem if an employee stops to buy milk while on the way back from work while driving an M.D. vehicle, but going shopping for an hour-and-a-half? Not good.
Employees are supposed to keep log books as well. They are for your own protection, said councillor Pearson.
“It’s a taxable benefit,” he said.
The updated policy will be brought back to council for ratification.
Community standards bylaw: bigger fines
M.D. admin. is proposing a new bylaw to replace several existing ones. It’s to be called the community standards bylaw, and it was presented by M.D. peace officer Paul Mulholland.
“You’ll see some quite hefty fines in there,” Mulholland told council. “It might be we’ll need them.”
Councillor Spencer made a pitch for an extended ‘quiet time’ in M.D. hamlets. Noise can be a problem when industrial uses and residential areas are mixed, or next to each other, she said.
Councillor Pearson wasn’t impressed.
“I don’t think the debate is even worth having,” he said. “Nobody operates ‘til 11 p.m.”
“Yes they do,” asserted Spencer.
Various times earlier than 11 p.m. were tossed around and discussed as alternatives. Ten p.m. was settled on, meaning that will be the suggested stop time for noisy activities when the new bylaw comes back to council for approval.
Mulholland said he’d like to have something in the bylaw that deals with people who have fires during a fire ban.
Kerik: “It should be a big ticket!”
The bylaw will come back to council for a decision at some later date.
Activity by the Visitor Info Centre
Councillor Seatter put this item on the agenda. There’s a fair-sized, industrial-looking project happening on a residential lot across from the (Slave Lake) Visitor Information Centre, he said. Is there a permit for it?
“It needs to be looked into,” Seatter said.
There’s another one happening on the Old Smith Highway, said councillor Sand.
“It’s gotten huge.”
Communicating with residents
Councillor Pearson’s addition to the agenda was a discussion about the M.D.’s efforts to communicate important stuff to residents, and whether it’s good enough. He’s apparently been hearing that it isn’t.
Pearson suggested a recorded phone message with up-to-date info – about fires and evacuation alerts, for example – would be a good idea, for people who can’t or don’t rely on the internet.
Some of his colleagues thought the M.D. is already doing plenty.
“We’re never going to reach everybody,” said Seatter. He then told a story about evacuating from southeast Slave Lake in 2011. Lots of people had no idea what was going on, but everybody got out.
“You can only do so much,” added councillor Sand.
“All I’m saying,” said Pearson, “is we’re not reaching everybody, and they’re not happy about it.”