March 15, 2022 meeting
Housekeeping on Big Fish Bay
After holding the required public hearing, council gave second and third readings to a bylaw amendment to the Municipal Development Plan (MDP), regarding some of the Big Fish Bay resort property.
What that accomplishes is to change the designation of the piece of property from Industrial to Regional Commercial in the MDP.
The land is a piece on the south side of Big Fish Bay, into which the business has been expanding for the past three years or so. The necessary changes to the town’s Land-Use Bylaw were made in 2018. Council heard that the corresponding change to the MDP should have happened at the same time, but “it was missed.”
At the public hearing, nobody spoke up for, against, or because they were affected by the bylaw change.
On the waterfront
An update to the 2007 Waterfront Area Structure Plan (ASP) is in order. At least the M.D. of Lesser Slave River thinks so, and has approached the town on it. The proposal is to work together to update the plan.
The ‘waterfront’ in question is the area along Lesser Slave River, in what is sometimes called ‘Old Town Slave Lake.’
The original ASP for the area envisioned (and hoped to stimulate) development along the river. Not much has happened in the meantime. The development of the plan involved “a comprehensive public engagement process” (says the report in town council’s agenda package), and a consultant was hired.
Councillor Steve Adams: “Does the M.D. actually want to do something about it?” He meant in the way of development. The M.D. does own some of the property along the south side of the river.
Not sure, was the answer, but they do want to revamp the plan.
Councillor Julie Brandle was in support.
“It’s probably time to do this,” she said. “Our plans aren’t made to sit on a shelf.”
The written report says: “It is the hope that an update to the plan will revitalize the area and spur development.”
Worried about a cookie-cutter approach
In council’s package was a letter from Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon. It was a response to a letter from the mayor, asking that the town be consulted about caribou range planning in the area. Also, about an agreement the town and M.D. are trying to finalize on management of Devonshire Beach.
Nixon said planning for the Slave Lake ‘sub-region’ is expected to begin in late 2022, “with the establishment of the Slave Lake Task Force.” These sub-regional plans, Nixon explains in his letter, are an attempt “to improve habitat outcomes,” at the same time as “maintaining a working landscape that supports economic, recreational and traditional land-use values.”
In his remarks, mayor Warman said council is “worried about a cookie-cutter approach,” to caribou conservation efforts. “Every range is different,” he said.
Also in the Minister Nixon’s letter was a bit about east end of Lesser Slave Lake marina development. This was in response to the town expressing support (in its letter to the minister) for a local business that would like to get permission to build a marina near Slave Lake.
We’ve seen no application for a marina, Nixon said, but the department provides regulatory oversight. He urged the town to speak to the appropriate official in the department.
“We’re in favour of this,” said Warman. “It would be good from the town’s point of view.”
Retroactive RCMP pay
As reported earlier, the town may be on the hook for a big chunk of unbudgeted cash, to cover retroactive pay raises for RCMP members. This follows the conclusion of salary negotiations between the police union and the federal government that stretched over five years, during which salaries were frozen. Now that it’s settled, the new, higher salaries apply to all of those five years. Municipalities of over 5,000 people are responsible for picking up 70 per cent of the tab.
The estimate for Slave Lake is somewhere between $360,000 and $380,000, council heard. In property tax terms, mayor Warman said it corresponds with a three per cent tax hike.
It’s bad news, Warman added, but also good news in that it’s “not as bad as we thought it was going to be.” The town had been told to brace for a $1 million hit.
However, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association is encouraging its members to hold off on paying, while it lobbies higher levels of government. The hope is to get some relief on the retroactive pay obligation.
Mayor Warman said the provincial government is also lobbying the feds for the same purpose.
Council accepted the report as information.
Sawridge Creek waterline
Council bit the bullet and awarded the contract to the low bidder on the Sawridge Creek waterline project. This is the one that will re-establish a broken water connection between the area of the hospital and the Springwood subdivision across the creek. It had been budgeted at around $380,000. Council got a shock when the low bid back in January came in just shy of $1 million.
Council wasn’t ready to accept that, and asked administration to look for ways to reduce the cost. Negotiations ensued (council heard), with the result of $54,552 being knocked off the bid. The recommendation was to accept the bid of Pidherney’s Inc., a Rocky Mtn. House contractor with a solid history of this kind of work.
The idea of hiring local contractors to do parts of the job was looked at, but turned out to be no way to save money, council heard.
“Ideally, this is not what we wanted to see,” said mayor Warman. “But it is what it is.”
The contracted amount is $943,124, plus GST. The total project cost (including engineering, geo-tech and contingency) is $1.13 million.
Ferguson to the fore
Council appointed councillor Brice Ferguson as ‘short-term deputy mayor’ during the spring school break, which is this week. The reason, as explained by mayor Warman, is that with COVID restrictions ended, “people want to get in a plane.” Because that is happening, the town would have been without a mayor or deputy mayor for part of the week; hence the elevation of Ferguson to the temporary post.
Warman’s closing remarks included a bit more about the recent meeting council had with the High Prairie School Division. One thing that came up was the need for greater mental health supports for students. It was described by the HPSD reps as “an area of concern,” Warman said. He added that the school division has a proposal to work with Alberta Health Services to increase access and supports for children. HPSD also seeks the town’s support in attracting qualified people to the area to work in the education field.
We’re nearing the end of the budget process, Warman continued. It’s been a very tough year.
“The cost of everything is going up,” he said. “People want more. But how do you give them that (without raising taxes)?”
Warman said he expects the budget to come to council for approval at the April 5 meeting.