Council’s Nov. 14 committee of the whole meeting consisted of a series of discussions about proposed policy updates, plus one bylaw – that being the one that includes the slippery and obstinate matter of water and sewer rates.
On the latter item, it was meant to be (or at least hoped to be) a quick approval of the final version, reflecting council’s wishes from the last few marathon sessions on the topic. But as in every other case, much wrangling ensued. In the end, council approved a version of the water and sewer rates that all could live with, if not agree with on every point. It – along with the other items – was sent forward for ratification at the regular meeting on Nov. 15 (see below).
Nov. 15, 2023 meeting
Lot line adjustment
Third and final reading was due on a Land-Use Bylaw amendment for a lot in Smith. The rezoning was a condition of an approval for a lot line adjustment. All the other conditions had been met, including a public hearing.
Council approved it with no discussion.
Schedule of fees
As noted above this included water and sewer rates. There are some changes from the system enacted last year that caused such a shock to a few big water users – one of them being the laundromat owner in Smith (as reported previously).
The new fees for potable water, effective Jan. 1 of next year, will be $3.50 per cubic metre, up to 30 m3. From 31 to 45 m3, it goes up to $4 a cube. Above 45 m3 per month, you’ll pay $12.50 per m3.
There are lots more details in the new bylaw, which will no doubt be available for viewing on the M.D. website any day now.
A few M.D. policies were up for cancellation, due to being outdated and the items being covered in other, newer policies or bylaws. Three rescinded policies are Notice of Special Meetings, Meetings by Electronic Communications and Meetings, Agendas and Delegations.
Council also rescinded a 28-year-old policy on Mitsue Industrial Park land sales or leases, which was considered outdated. The policy has not been replaced by a new one; that awaits “a complete analysis of all M.D.-owned property,” says the written report. In the meantime, the M.D. apparently plans to set up a committee to look into the selling or leasing of M.D. property.
Council tore through a list of policy updates with little or no discussion. This was mainly because the day before (and days before that) they had chewed the fat extensively on some of the items. But it was finally time to say ‘aye’ and get on to some new things, so that’s what they did. Here’s the list:
Credit Card/Purchase Card, Transfer Station – Landfill, Community Facilities Snow and Ice Control, Wild Boar At Large Management Program (trapping recommended vs. shooting), Clubroot of Canola, Bench and Tree Dedication, Non-Budgeted Expenditures and Office Operational Hours and Closure.
On the last item, councillor Brad Pearson took note of office staff work days being three quarters of an hour less than an eight-hour day. How did that come about he asked.
That’s just the way it’s been, said CAO Barry Kolenosky. Some previous council must have decided on it. Outside workers do 40-hour weeks and inside (office) workers do 36 ¼ hours.
Council voted in favour of a motion to approve the amendments to the office hours policy, with Councillor Darren Fulmore opposed. He did not say why he was against it.
License of occupation application
A property owner in the Chisholm area needs ‘formal’ access off Hwy. 44 onto his property and had asked the M.D. for permission to use an undeveloped M.D. road allowance. That requires a license of occupation. It’s up to the M.D., council heard, to provide the approach; the applicant has to take care of the rest of the access on the road allowance. The land is located near the Chisholm fire lookout tower.
Council voted in favour of entering into the LOC with the applicant.
Consulting the community on the Rec and Open Spaces Master Plan
The M.D. has engaged a firm to develop a plan on this topic. Part of the process is to set up community consultation sessions. These are due to start on Nov. 27, council heard. Dates had been set, but at the time the report was made, times and places were still being worked out. Tentative locations are the community halls in Flatbush, Widewater and Smith and one somewhere in Slave Lake.
In the meantime, an online survey on recreation-type topics has been up and running and has had a few responses. Thirty-five, to be exact. Of these, 83 per cent said they prefer to learn about recreational opportunities via the M.D.’s social media.
The M.D. plans to continue promoting the survey, so as to get more participation.
In the board reports portion of the meeting, Councillor Fulmore talked about the latest news from the Veterinary Services Incorporated program. The shortage of large animal vets was a major topic at the most recent meeting, and what to do about it. One county owns a vet clinic and leases it to vets willing to work in the area. Another idea is to appeal directly to vet students about practicing in the rural north. A vet version of tele-health was another idea.
Airport Commission seeking public input on airport future
Fulmore reported that a master plan for the airport and the lands it owns is being worked up. Among other things it will look at future expansion possibilities.
An open house is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the terminal building, as part of the master plan process. It’ll be a chance for members of the public to have their say on how they think the future of the airport should look.
Regional Library Board: security guard making a difference
We’re working on a budget, reported Councillor Sand, and you’ll be hearing about it soon. The board has also been working on a three-year plan of service.
Security continues to be an issue at the Slave Lake library. Having a security guard on duty in the evenings is “helping a lot,” Sand said. People have been banned. Somebody came in and stole the money from the poppy donation jar.
In other news, a lot of programs are being run and are well attended.
“Good to see,” said Sand.
LSL Housing: insurance inadequate, so costs going up
Expenses exceed revenue, was Pearson’s opening remark in his report on the Lesser Slave Lake Regional Housing Authority. Expect a slight increase in requisition for next year.
Insurance isn’t up to par on the lodge, which probably means it’s going up.
The board has been talking about making vacant units available to rent to certain people. In fact it had been done already, for nurses, but there were no takers.
Homeland Housing: internet becoming popular
Financially okay, said Melzer, leading off her report on the Morinville-based housing authority. Providing internet services to lodges is something that is being looked into. The demand for it has grown a lot in the past 10 years or so. Melzer said when lodge residents were polled a decade ago, less than five per cent of them were interested in the internet. That number is now over 50 per cent.
This committee consists of members of Slave Lake and M.D. council, meeting to chew over matters of mutual concern. At the latest meeting, they discussed the future of the Visitor Information Centre, apparently without making any decisions worth reporting. One idea, though, was to use the space for a sort of museum – or at least to make it available for such a use, should anybody be interested in doing the work.
Advocacy on Hwy. 88 was also discussed.
“Very active,” said councillor Lana Spencer. The group met with a representative of the Alberta North Central Alliance, which is apparently keen on promoting tourism and working on a strategic plan and interested in collaborating.
Beach Fest 2024 planning has started, Spencer said.
Figuring out how to fund the coordinator’s position is also a going concern. Most tourism-related grants appear to be earmarked for events of at least two days, not for operational costs.
Tri-Council Health: nurses, doctors
Two new nurses have started in Slave Lake, reported Pearson. There’s a new acute care manager. Waiting times for NP and doctor appointments are around 25 days.
Melzer, who is the new chair of the committee, reported that town councillor Ali Mouallem had hosted a group of 20 health care people and their spouses to a meal, and given some newly-arrived workers a tour of the community. Housing and child care continue to be big challenges in recruitment.
Pearson said to say the news that the Town of Slave Lake is attempting to increase daycare spaces in town is “a good initiative.”
LSL waste management
There are some cost savings we can look at, reported CAO Barry Kolenosky. The landfill west of Slave Lake is operating “at peak capacity,” he added. The commission does not anticipate an increase in requisition next year from the two municipalities.
“It’s very organized,” added Councillor Pearson, speaking of the landfill. “There’s a spot for everything. It’s a nice facility and the employees are happy. It’s not a dump anymore.”
Reporting on things he’d learned at the recent Rural Municipalities Association conference, Pearson spoke about the MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) program having been replaced by another provincial program for helping towns and cities pay for infrastructure upgrades (with an acronym we didn’t catch). The word from the province is it will divvy up $722 million in 2024 between all municipalities, by a formula either not yet announced or not understood by the M.D.
But “nobody will go down, they said,” Pearson added.
In 2025, the total amount in the fund will go up by 14 per cent, municipalities were told.
That’s $100 million, observe Councillor Seatter.
Reeve Kerik didn’t sound too impressed by that number.
“It depends how they divide it,” he said. “It might be $14,000 to us.”
On the subject of unpaid property taxes by energy companies, Pearson said councillors heard at the conference that most companies are paying, with “a few bad actors,” not doing so. The cost of not paying up is growing, Pearson said. “The teeth are growing,” is how he put it.