Mayor of Slave Lake
2017 was definitely a year of getting back to normal.
With that being said I don’t truly believe this region is one to just sit on its hands and wait for opportunity to come knocking. Instead the people of this region go and search it out. As such, we are always moving forward and our plates always have a lot on them.
In my opinion council’s greatest accomplishment in 2017 took place at 10:00 a.m. on December 21, 2017. Here, right before Christmas and the end of the year, M.D. Reeve Murray Kerik and I signed five-year agreements related to inter-municipal governance and fire services in the region.
This may not seem like a big deal to many, but I assure this process was enormous and one of the most taxing things I endured this year. The negotiations stalled for some time as we went through an election and other circumstances out of our control. Both sides had concerns with the agreements as they were written, and both sides were finding it difficult finding common ground.
The M.D. made a stance in August and September in an effort to protect its interests. In reaction to their stance, the Town of Slave Lake brought the issue into the public, and it quickly became an election issue in both races.
The Town felt forced to notify the M.D. that fire and recreation services for M.D. residents would be affected, drawing a line in the sand. By the middle of October, it felt like we were miles apart and no clear solution would be found.
After the election some new viewpoints and personalities emerged. Reeve Kerik and myself along with our two CAOs, Allan Winarski and Brian Vance, sat down and tried to determine a new path forward. A plan was put together and the process commenced. Both sides came to the table, information was shared, viewpoints expressed and common ground was apparently a lot closer than anyone originally anticipated.
So what do the changes look like?
In the inter-municipal agreement, the M.D. had been obligated to pay a share of the cost of maintaining ‘parks’ in the Town of Slave Lake. This was how the agreement was worded, but the M.D., rightly so, felt there was some inequality there. They agreed they should pay for things like MRC, pool, and the ball diamonds, to name a few. On the other hand the Town felt some parks like the splash park, skateboard park, basketball courts, should be included under the agreement.
By the same token, some of the ‘pocket parks’ and walking trails costs should be excluded, under a new agreement. So both sides agreed to exclude some items and include some other items and came up with a fairer way of paying and all recognized the costs the Town bears. The Town had to respect the fact that the M.D. has its own recreational obligations.
The other big change to this agreement was an acknowledgment that a fairer and more respectful way of dealing was needed with capital projects and items. The M.D. conceded that contributions to existing facilities had to be part of the cost of doing business. The Town conceded that if we were to increase amenities, the M.D. wouldn’t be obligated to pay just because we wanted to add items.
Looking at the Fire Services Agreement, there was a lot of debate. We had to understand how the new town fire hall affected the agreement, as the cost of the hall came completely from Town. We looked at the complicated formula for financing the hall, which includes the number of calls and cost centers and tried to determine the simplest and fairest way to deal with the department as a whole.
In the end both sides concluded the M.D. will pay for their halls, but also recognizing that the Slave Lake hall plays a key part in M.D. fire protection. We came to the understanding that both the M.D. and the Town would share the costs for Hall 1.
This had been in the old agreement, but determining the ratio had become contentious. In the end we decided to split costs 50/50.
This change symbolizes a true partnership in fire protection for our residents and makes it easier for both sides to budget for costs. Additionally, the M.D. will make an annual capital contribution that recognizes the costs of buildings and equipment that the Town bears.
The Town also acknowledged with both agreements that the M.D. has to have more input into the direction and the M.D. agreed they have to come to the table to do that. In the end success was found and our relationship is stronger because of it.
I would like to thank our residents and our volunteers for holding their breath while we worked hard to finalize fair agreements that respected both the interests of the Town and M.D. taxpayers. I want to thank residents for getting involved and asking questions. Your attention to the issue helped motivate both sides to find a solution that would be beneficial to all.
I personally want to thank Reeve Kerik and his council for their dedication to getting this process completed. Our CAO Brian Vance spent countless hours revamping these agreements with input from CAO Allan Winarski and I want to commend both of these gentlemen for their commitment to the organizations they work for.
Lastly, a big part of our success was the perseverance of my own council to see this completed in a timely manner.
One of the groups affected by all the debate was our Regional Fire Department. I appreciate the commitment of our Chief Jamie Coutts, his staff and the volunteers in both the Town and M.D. who remained dedicated and committed to the protection of all the residents of this region.
This is another shining example of the Town and M.D.’s dedication towards building a stronger region together!