M.D. of Lesser Slave River Council notebook

Nov. 25, 2020 meeting
Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

COVID mitigation
The first thing council heard at its Nov. 25 meeting was a report from acting CAO Barry Kolenosky on new mitigation measures aimed at keeping M.D. employees and the public they interact with free from infection. It was a lot of work in a short time, he said, and promised more details later in the meeting.

Mixed messages from province
Kolenosky spoke about the apparently contradictory signals from the provincial government when it comes to infrastructure grants and spending. On one hand, the word is the M.D.’s MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) grant funding will be reduced. On the other hand, the province is urging municipalities to spend money on infrastructure projects, so as to create jobs. Kolenosky said the latter item seems to suggest ‘stimulus’ grants will be available.

Councillor Sandra Melzer at that point asked if having a grant application expert on staff might be beneficial. Yes and no, was Kolenosky’s answer.

“I think we might be missing some potential income there,” Melzer said.

Are there grants we’ve missed? asked councillor Robert Esau, taking up the point.

There are umpteen things that could be applied for, Kolenosky said, and not all of them from government.

Well, said Esau, if we had a person dedicated to applying for them, the results might more than pay for that person’s salary.

“Something for budget time,” said reeve Murray Kerik.

Reduced office hours
Getting back to the new COVID strategy, Kolenosky informed council the admin office at Slave Lake will now be open to the public three days per week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Some staff members will be working exclusively from home for the time being.

Flatbush office continues with its Tuesday and Thursday office hours. Both will be closed from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4.

“We’re trying to keep walk-ins down to a minimum,” said Kolenosky.

The public works operators are getting staggered start times, so as to reduce the tendency to congregate in the shop before starting work.

No more COVID charges for ‘continuous’ user groups
Council accepted a recommendation to waive the costs of cleaning and disinfection after the regular groups use M.D. facilities. For the past several months, these COVID-induced costs have been added to the fees these groups pay the M.D. But as it turns out, the costs are so small as to make the cost of billing for them not worth the effort.

For other renters of M.D. halls, however, the costs will still be added.

Prepping for the new CAO
Council passed a bunch of motions that will allow the new chief administrative officer to get right into the swing of things when she starts at the beginning of December. The motions give her access to a couple of M.D. boxes at the bank and add her (Barbara Miller is her name) as a signing authority.

The only question was asked by councillor Brad Pearson, who wondered if the authorizations might be “premature.”

“It’s gotta be done,” was Kerik’s response. “I like the idea of back-up.”

Barb Miller

Ag Service Board gets even more legit
Per provincial recommendation, the M.D. has enacted a bylaw establishing an Agricultural Service Board. Of course the ASB already exists and has since 1983. But having it framed in a bylaw apparently gives it more legitimacy.

As explained by Ag Fieldman Russ Jassman, the regulatory activities of the ASB (with regard to weed and pest control), “carry the potential for legal action against the ASB, the Ag Fieldman and the M.D.” Having the ASB established in bylaw strengthens the position of all the above should that happen.

2020 budget status
“’We’re sitting really good,” with respect to property tax revenue, Kolenosky informed council. The bulk of taxes that haven’t been collected are from oil and gas companies, some of which have declared bankruptcy.

Interim budget approved
Per standard practice, the M.D. approved an interim budget for the first three months of 2021, so business can be conducted while council goes through the process of wrangling and approving a proper budget for the new fiscal year. Usually the interim budget is approved at 30 per cent of the current year’s budget. This time, the recommendation was to set it at 40 per cent.

This will allow more flexibility in tendering some capital projects, council was told. Those of course would have to be approved by council.

Green light on green grader
Council went with the recommended option and approved the purchase of a rented John Deere grader for $390,000. It replaces another Deere Unit that burst into flame back in October. Apparently the cause was a battery cable that had worn through. The M.D. expects to collect $420,000 insurance on the loss. Rental costs on the interim unit were $19,000 per month.

The slightly used unit had 375 hours on it when the M.D. started renting it.

Taking care of water
Council was presented with a “summary of a summary” on municipal responsibilities when it comes to providing safe drinking water. It was timely, because a water main break somewhere in the vicinity of Nine Mile Point was in progress, and department manager Ryan Tufts informed council the breach had not yet been located. Complicating matters, he said, was the fact a lot of people in the area had to do without water for the duration, because the M.D. couldn’t locate an isolation valve closer to the site of the leak.

Tufts was asked if the Canyon Creek water plant was in any jeopardy. No, he said, thanks to “thoughtful and prompt response by our operators.”

Board reports
Community Futures Tawatinaw – councillor Melzer’s report included the news that further federal support for small businesses was on the way, via Community Futures offices. Year-end (for 2019) financials have been wrapped up and look good, she said.

Lesser Slave Regional Housing – councillor Pearson said he returns as vice chair of this authority, with Julie Brandle as chair. The board is formalizing a document with regard to a ‘lease-to-purchase’ scheme in Smith.

In other housing news, a consultant will be hired to go through the lodge “with a fine-toothed comb,” Pearson said, to come up with a status report that will help guide the board in creating a 10-year capital plan.

Municipal Planning Commission – councillor Acton reported the MPC has three new members. They’ll be able to get the appropriate training in January. The commission also approved a time extension on a subdivision and a subdivision application.

Veterinary Services Incorporated – this organization had its annual meeting, councillor Melzer reported. Bees are now part of the vet-client relationship, she said, without elaborating.

Two counties have withdrawn from VSI, Melzer continued – “Big Lakes and one other one.”

Thanking those who serve
Councillor Acton brought up the idea of formally thanking those citizens who serve on M.D. boards and commissions. Is there an M.D. policy on it?
“I don’t want to put work on somebody,” she said, “I just want to recognize people.”

Figuring out MLA communication
A recent meeting with the Lesser Slave Lake MLA may have raised more questions than it answered. At least that’s the impression councillors gave in the discussion. It started like this:

“We heard loud and clear that they need documentation,” said councillor Pearson. “A simple email on what we want done.”

Councillor Acton was puzzled and seemed skeptical as well. What’s the point of having a face-to-face meeting, she asked (one in which the MLA’s assistant took notes) “if you have to send an email right after?”

Not only that, she said, the M.D. has been CC-ing the MLA on all its pertinent correspondence.

Councillor Esau agreed. Maybe we should do everything by motion, he suggested.

Fair enough, said reeve Kerik. But if having an M.D. email helps the MLA’s cause when he’s making a pitch to a minister on our behalf, we can provide it.

“Maybe we should ask the MLA’s assistant to send us an email so we know what we’re responding to,” suggested Acton.

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