May 4, 2021
Nervous about burning
Councillor Darin Busk made a point of praising the communication efforts of the forest service when it comes to hazard-reduction burning that has been going on around the community lately.
“We are just about in that same season when the disaster happened (in 2011),” he said, and some people still get quite nervous when they smell smoke at this time of year.
Leading off CAO David Kim’s report was the news the town had issued seven new businesses licences since the last report. These run the gamut from energy services to pet care, with massage therapy, tree pruning and propane supply in between.
The town’s request for proposals (RFP) on a sewage line upgrade project only received one response. That is not ideal, but perhaps better than nothing. Negotiations were going on, Kim reported.
Project details on the Gloryland roads upgrade were to be presented by the engineering firm and construction contractor at a May 10 meeting.
The LSL Regional Fire Service had what was probably an average week, with six calls for service. Four of them were motor vehicle collisions, one was a gas leak and the other was to investigate smoke. Otherwise, the LSLRFS was providing emergency response training to a team from High Prairie’s Tolko mill.
Kim’s report included the latest on the swimming pool repairs. Work in the pool basin had been completed, and following five days of ‘cure time,’ filling it with water could start. Staff training was also underway.
Cheques over $50,000
Per town policy, all cheques of more than $50,000 have to be reported to council. There were eight of them on the list this time, including routine payments for RCMP services ($461,000), insurance ($431,000) and seniors’ housing ($69,000). Three were for capital purchases – $80,000 for a steamer, $152,000 for an ice-clearing and flooding machine and $631,000 to the sewage lagoon upgrade contractor.
Transfer to property taxes
Council accepted a recommendation from administration to transfer utility accounts in arrears to the defaulters’ property taxes. This is standard procedure – an approved way of getting (or at least attempting to get) unpaid fees. Of course it only works if the property owners also pay their property taxes, which happens most of the time, but not always.
The amount owing at the moment (accounts 90 days past due) is $32,403. Councillor Julie Brandle asked if this is a normal amount for this time of the year.
“Yes,” said director of finance Roland Schmidt. “Roughly.”
First quarter budget report
Expenditures are about what was expected for the first quarter of 2021, Schmidt reported. But revenues are slightly below. Schmidt called it “an area of concern.”
One reason for the lower-than-expected revenue to date is town facilities that are closed due to COVID. There are some savings also from the situation, but fixed costs aren’t going anywhere and insurance is actually up; these are starting to tell.
“Unless there is a change in course from the pandemic, prolonged facility closures will have a negative impact on the town’s ability to meet its budget,” said Schmidt’s written report, which he added “is trending toward a small deficit.”
Contributing to the state of revenue shortage for the town is $971,000 in as-yet-uncollected property taxes from 2020. Of that, $642,000 is owed on a small number of properties. Commenting on this, mayor Tyler Warman said they must be commercial properties. That’s correct, said Schmidt, although he didn’t identify them.
“So we’re communicating with these people?” Warman asked.
We are, said Schmidt.
This year’s property taxes
Tax notices for this year have just gone out, but in some cases payments are already coming in. These are ones on installment plans. Schmidt reported the amount received so far on this type of account is $920,000.
Support for High River on coal
In council’s agenda was a letter from the mayor of High River, requesting support for its effort to get all coal exploration activity to cease in areas of the Eastern Slopes. In the letter, mayor Craig Snodgrass notes that although the province has initiated a public consultation process on coal development, exploration activities continue.
Warman said he’d spoken on the phone to mayor Snodgrass, and the gist of the message was ‘Don’t do anything until consultation is done.’
“Makes sense to me,” said Warman, and made a motion for council to send a letter of support for the High River position to the premier and a couple of ministers. Council voted in favour of the motion.
Legacy, daycare, etc.
Warman reported the latest on the talks between the daycare society and the Legacy Centre board. Thanks to restrictions on the number of children it can accommodate, the daycare isn’t making ends meet and has asked the board for a sharp reduction in the rent it pays.
It’s worth noting that the child care society is part of the Legacy Centre board.
Warman said one thing they talked about was the daycare giving up some upstairs space it currently occupies. This would reduce its costs and open a rental opportunity for the Legacy to offer to someone else. It seems this will likely happen.
Otherwise, Warman said the two organizations (Legacy Corporation and SL Child Care Society) will be taking a look at each other’s books.
“It was a good discussion,” Warman said.
Warman spoke about a recent meeting of council members from five municipalities and five First Nations in the area. It was a good first step, he said, to creating something like the regional tri-council on a broader scale. All the participants seemed to want to move forward on it, Warman said. He expects terms of reference to be developed, as well as a plan for some advocacy.
Besides Slave Lake, municipalities participating in the initial meeting were Lesser Slave River, Opportunity, Big Lakes and High Prairie; First Nations were Sawridge, Bigstone, Driftpile, Sucker Creek and Kapawe’no.
Warman commented on new COVID restrictions, “the big news of the day,” announced earlier that evening by Premier Jason Kenney.
“But will the people that weren’t listening before all of a sudden start listening?”