M.D. of Lesser Slave River Council notebook

May 26, 2021 meeting
Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Investment ideas

Council’s May 26 meeting kicked off with a visit from a couple of investment advisors. Their pitch had to do with getting M.D. reserves better bang for their investment buck – strategies for which they presented in some detail.
“What are your fees?” asked councillor Brad Pearson.

A small fraction off the top of the yield, he was told. In other words, “not out of your pocket.”

How about rates of return? was Pearson’s next question.

It’s been unusually high the past few years, said James Hobson of Wood Gundy. Don’t expect that. “If we can get you three per cent we’ll be very happy with that.”

Council will get a report on investment options for decision at an upcoming meeting, probably June 9.

Appointments, dis-appointments

Council accepted administration’s recommendation and made various internal appointments of M.D. staff – authority for this and for that; as well, other employees (or former ones) were removed from those designations.
New names include Jenny Tu, the new director of finance, and Byron Nagazina, who works in the same department. Names being removed include those of Wanda Sinclair, Russ Jassman, Barry Kolenosky and Lana Spencer.

Let’s buy that skid steer

Two years ago, the M.D. leased a skid steer for two years, with the option to buy out the lease at the end of the term. That was in May 2021, so council was presented with several options. One was to proceed with the purchase for $43,000. Another was to buy a new model for $82,000; yet another was to do without such a machine.

The recommendation from public works director Ryan Tufts was to buy the leased unit. It’s in good shape, he said, and “has proven to be extremely useful.”

Council went with that recommendation by a 5 – 1 vote.

On a somewhat related note, councillor Robert Esau mentioned an M.D. track hoe doing ditching work in the Flatbush area.

“I’d like to look into the cost of that ditch,” he said. “In my mind we could contract it out for a tenth the cost.”

Southshore Children’s Association

Added to the agenda by councillor Darcie Acton, the issue here was whether the M.D. could or should allow the Southshore Children’s Association to re-open its playschool in the Widewater Complex. It had to shut down when the M.D. decided to close all its recreation facilities in the recent round of provincial COVID restrictions.

The point Acton made – apparently on behalf of her constituents – is that with schools now re-opened, there seems little reason not to allow the playschool to resume operations. Furthering bolstering the argument, she noted that such services had been deemed “essential” by the minister.

Defending the M.D. position, rural services director Russ Jassman spoke about liability and safety.

Councillor Pearson was on-side with Acton.

“I think our risk is minimal,” he said. “My vote would be to open it.”

Council voted unanimously in favour of a motion to that effect.

Harbour lease agreement

The process of acquiring ownership of the Canyon Creek Harbour is inching along. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) wants to get rid of it, and the M.D. wants to take it over and look after it. Jassman, presenting the report, told council one condition the DFO put on the transfer was for the M.D. to have a bylaw on the lease agreement. A draft version of this bylaw was in the agenda package for council’s consideration.

The term of the lease is for one year. What Jassman referred to as “the end game” is for the title to be transferred to the M.D. permanently. There is still some work to be done “in the background,” he said, before that will happen.

Council gave all three readings to the bylaw, bringing it into effect.

Letter from a ratepayer

A Flatbush-area resident had written to the M.D. inquiring about a fence across an undeveloped road allowance. The writer wants to use the road allowance, council heard, and is asking the M.D. if permission to erect the fence had been granted.

Nobody had the answer to that, but councillor Sandra Melzer said she knows of a similar situation in another spot.

“I think you’d be surprised how many have been erected,” said reeve Kerik. “It’s not a problem when nobody wants to use them. But when they do, it has to be removed. We’ve had this fight before with other ones.”

Council asked for a report with recommendations, for a future meeting.

Grinder pumps, again

Council got an update on the M.D.’s effort to address the high failure rate of the grinder pumps in sewer system in the Southshore area. This was getting up to about 80 failures per year, reported Ryan Tufts. Brian Vance was put to work assessing the system, finding weaknesses and proposing improvements. The net result is a new brand of pump being recommended, a tracking system (using serial numbers) for individual pumps, and a much-improved system of pump refurbishment. On that latter item, Tufts said what had been happening was a single component of a pump would be replaced and the pump was declared refurbished – despite the likelihood of it being generally worn down. Tufts called that, “a fatal policy,” which has now been corrected.

So far, so good on all those measures, Tufts told council.

As it usually does, the related topic of residences still not hooked up to the system arose. It is required, both by provincial regulation and M.D. bylaw. The initial ‘grace period’ for getting connected was five years, Pearson reminded council, adding, “It’s 16 years now.”

What the M.D. is going to do about it is the question. CAO Barb Miller suggested a “one-on-one approach,” letting the non-compliant folks know that there are financing opportunities.

More downloading looming?

Councillor Pearson’s report on the Slave Lake Regional Housing Authority had a lot to do with his impressions of the provincial government trying to save money by ‘downloading’ costs onto municipalities. There’s “a little bit of talk,” he said, about the government looking for ways to reduce the $640,000 it provides annually to the housing authority in housing subsidies.

“Requisitions are being discussed,” Pearson continued. “Right now it doesn’t work that way. Right now our tax dollars flow to the government, and it funds social housing.”

Speaking of which, the $4.5 million the government has committed to an affordable housing project in Slave Lake is still in limbo. The province is looking for a private company to partner with and has received interest from one party, Pearson said, but no details have been shared. The board plans to send a letter to the department, asking to be “kept in the loop. What is happening?”

Watershed

The Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council has a vacancy for a public member, councillor Acton reported. If anybody’s interested…..

The SLWC has received a ‘watershed resiliency grant.’ This will be applied to a couple of projects on private land, but Acton said there’s a chance some of it could go towards the cleaning up of the remnants of a bridge over Nine Mile Creek. Acton had presented the idea at the most recent watershed council meeting and (she subsequently told The Leader) “it was favourably received.”

In other news from the LSWC meeting, the Town of Slave Lake shared its concern about motorized watercraft zooming up and down Sawridge Creek in town, aggravating the erosion problem.

The annual general meeting (‘virtual’) for the watershed council is June 17.

Positive vibes from Deltastream

Some councillors had met with representatives of Deltastream Energy, the company developing oil wells in the Marten Hills area.

“They’re going to do more drilling,” said reeve Kerik.

“It was a very positive meeting,” added councillor Melzer.

“They have quite a development plan,” said Kerik.

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