M.D. of Lesser Slave River Council notebook

Nov. 29, 2023 meeting

Joe McWilliams

Lakeside Leader

Council chambers were overflowing with people – mainly there for a public hearing due to start at 10:15 a.m. To kill a quarter hour, council dealt with a couple of Brad Pearson additions to the agenda – one on grinder pump warrantees and the other on the M.D.’s bench dedication program.

Pump warrantee

Councillor Pearson said he’d been asked a question about warrantees on M.D.-supplied sewage grinder pumps. Given that the M.D. is getting out of the business of pump maintenance, “there is some grey area,” he said, and some people want to know where they stand with regard to those pump warrantees.

Is there anything M.D. administration can do to help?

CAO Barry Kolenosky said the M.D. should have a record of when the pumps were bought, and the warrantee status.

Happy to hear that, Pearson made a motion to have admin. look into it and work with whoever would like that information.

Bench dedication

Pearson’s other agenda addition came about due to a request for information he’d received from a member of the public. Somebody would like to purchase and have the M.D. set up a memorial bench near the Lesser Slave River weir, he said. They want to know what the process is.

As it happens, the M.D. recently approved a policy on memorial benches and that sort of thing.

Pearson made a motion to have admin. look into it and get in touch with the party in question.

Thanks but no thanks, to the inter-municipal Subdivision and Development Appeal Board idea

The question was whether to join up with an inter-municipal SDAB. It’s not the first time the subject has come up.

As noted in the report, back in 2019, several neighbouring municipalities to the west joined forces to create such a board. The M.D. declined participation at the time. The advantage of the joint approach, council was advised, is that with board members hard to recruit, the IMSDAB would always have someone to hear an appeal.

As it happens, the M.D.’s SDAB is two members short, meaning if something came up, it might not be able to hear it. Full complement is five members – one councillor and four members at large.

On the other hand, the workload is small. The panel has only been called on 10 times in the past nine years.

The written report for council says there would be no disadvantages to joining an inter-municipal SDAB, but Councillor Pearson disagreed. Asking outsiders to make decisions on our land use issues sounds risky, he said.

Pearson gave an example: the Canyon Creek harbour, he said, had people from up and down the lake, “telling us how we could live in Canyon Creek. It didn’t go over very well.”

Council voted in favour of a Pearson motion to continue with the M.D.’s SDAB as it stands, and to continue advertising for two members at large.

Brad Pearson

Certificates of compliance

Council approve an update to the M.D.’s policy on something called ‘certificates of compliance.’ This is something the M.D. can provide to purchasers of property, certifying that everything is shipshape with regard to setbacks, development permits and so on, under the land-use bylaw.

The old policy allowed property owner to request a certificate without a real property report.

“This defeats the whole purpose,” says the written report, “since the municipality will not know if the property is in compliance or not.”

The updated policy fixes that deficiency.

Auctioning off old stuff

The M.D. already had quite a list of old equipment it is auctioning off, but it got longer after council approved the addition of several bigger items. These require council approval if they are worth more than $5,000 – hence their inclusion in the agenda.

One is a 2014 Dodge Ram (presumably a pickup truck), with a reserve bid of $10,000. Two others are listed as ‘2012 John Deere zero turn,” (presumably mowers, but it doesn’t say), with no reserve bid mentioned. The fourth is a 2002 Kohler portable power plant, also with no reserve bid listed.

The auction takes place Dec. 8 – 11, conducted by Allen B. Olson Auction Service Ltd., as advertised on Page 13 of this week’s Leader (see also allenolsonauction.com for more details).

Pearson wanted to know if councillors are allowed to bid on auction items. You are, said Kolenosky. As a rule, only land sales (by the M.D.) are off limits to councillors (probably employees as well).

Councillor Lana Spencer expressed concern the auction doesn’t have enough exposure. Not to worry, said the CAO, the auction house has many thousands of bidders looking for good deals.

Photo courtesy of M.D. #124

Risk assessment on Canyon Creek water plant

The M.D.’s water treatment plant in Canyon Creek is facing some challenges – a major one being the failure of the filtration membranes and the difficulty of getting new ones. The plant is able to operate under a parallel system, but decisions have to be made.

For one thing, the infrastructure is aging generally and a risk assessment is due. The recommendation was to approve the expenditure of $10,000 to get this done.

Replacement membranes have been ordered, council heard, but it takes 18 months to get them. The company that supplies them has changed hands five times in the past couple of decades, and is generally providing lousy service.

The preference of administration is to move away from the membrane system – as many other municipalities are doing, council heard.

Well, said Councillor Pearson – always with an eye to saving a few bucks – why don’t we just do that and skip the assessment? But he didn’t get any agreement from his colleagues.

“We need to do it,” said Councillor Spencer.

Councillor Norm Seatter made the motion to proceed as recommended, which was carried.

Financial update: Still learning the ropes

Holly Omelchuk, the new director of finance for the M.D., provided an update. There are a few anomalies, she said, “but it looks like we are doing okay.”

Omelchuk said she’s still learning the ropes, but figures she’s “75 to 80 per cent there.”

Councillor Pearson asked if the plan for 2024 was to approve an interim budget for the first three months or so, per the usual practice. He was surprised to hear that isn’t being planned, and said so.
Explaining, Kolenosky said council could expect an operations budget to be ready for approval by the end of this month, which is much earlier than normal.

But how can you do that without having accurate assessment information, Pearson asked.

“Every budget is an estimate,” Omelchuk pointed out. Adjustments can still be made.

Council accepted the financial report as information.

Capital projects

CAO Kolenosky told council progress on most capital projects is good. A couple of smaller ones are over budget, but for the most part, they are “online and the majority are under budget.”

Construction of a new water fill station at Marten Beach continues, and “if the materials come in, we’ll be done before Christmas,” he said. The old building will be stripped and some of the material recycled. The metering system is to be used at Flatbush.

As for the Old Smith Highway re-routing project, Kolenosky said he expects it to be tendered in January. Also, the M.D. is toying with the idea of taking on the role of “overall contractor,” the CAO said, which could save the municipality as much as half a million dollars.

Kolenosky also reminded council that Doug Baird, who has been working as a project manager for the M.D., won’t be able to work for a while, so Brian Vance has been recruited to fill in – doing “double duty,” as Kolenosky put it.

Brian Vance

Public input on rec

The firm doing a recreation and open spaces master plan for the M.D. is in the midst of a round of public input sessions. Two are this week – Dec. 4 at the M.D. office and Dec. 5 in Widewater. Meetings in Smith and Flatbush had already happened. Judging by comments from councillors, the one in Flatbush was sparsely attended; the one in Smith had about a dozen people.

An online survey is also part of the effort to gather info on what residents think about recreation amenities and such. It was to end Nov. 27, but Kolenosky said it would continue for a bit. Response has been pretty good so far, he said.

Airport stuff

Speaking of open houses, a consultant doing a master plan for the Slave Lake Airport Services Commission held on at the airport on Nov. 28. Councillor Norm Seatter was there and said it was pretty well-attended.

Kolenosky had met with the consultant. They agreed the airport is vital to the region for various reasons – two of them being that it encourages industrial growth and the air ambulance service.

A downside of the situation is there isn’t much room for airport-related industrial expansion around the airport. Hearing that, Councillor Spencer asked if another location for the airport is being contemplated.

“Can of worms,” said Pearson. “Big dollars.”

Seatter said there are people interested in building hangars, but there isn’t much space. He thinks it was a mistake, years ago, for the town to allow unrelated industrial occupation of the land along the south edge of the air strip.

Another mistake would be for the town to allow anything unrelated to the airport to be built on town land between the animal shelter and the town yard, east of the runway, said Pearson.

Debate on ice maintenance

Administration has been figuring out how to look after two ice surfaces – the indoor one in Canyon Creek and the new outdoor one in Smith. Kolenosky said the old Zamboni at Smith had been restored to life by a couple of energetic and creative M.D. mechanics, and the plan was to assign it to the Canyon Creek arena. It’ll work well there because it uses propane, and vehicles burning gas or diesel can’t be used, legally, in that building.

But with Smith now having a regulation-sized outdoor rink, the little tractor isn’t up to the job. We’ve been looking around, Kolenosky said, and think we can get a used Zamboni at an auction for around $10,000. What do you say?

Councillor Spencer wasn’t thrilled.

“I don’t want equipment sitting around,” she said.

“I’m for it,” countered Councillor Sand.

“It’s a half-million-dollar project already,” said Spencer, meaning she doesn’t want to spend even more.

Seatter weighed in on that point, saying more or less what’s the point of spending all that money if you can’t properly maintain the ice.

What did you do last year, Spencer asked.

We shoveled it off, said Sand, but it’s now twice the size.

Let’s talk about it at budget, suggested Spencer.

“If the Zamboni is cheap enough, we should pick it up,” offered Reeve Murray Kerik.

“There’s a reason it’s on sale,” said Pearson, skeptically.

Seatter, cutting to the chase, made a motion to approve the purchase of a Zamboni for Smith, “up to $10,000.”

“Why are we in a rush?” asked Spencer.

Sand said SHARA would be “happy to pay for half the Zamboni.”

Council voted in favour of Seatter’s motion.

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