Town of Slave Lake Council notebook

April 19, 2022 meeting

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Clean and unqualified

Council heard the news they were hoping to hear from the town’s external auditor. Edward Cheung of Doyle & Co. told council his audit of the 2021 town books was “clean” and “unqualified,” with no recommendations for improvement, and “no disagreements with town staff.” Internal controls remain strong, he added.

This reflects well on town director of finance Roland Schmidt and his team, which was duly noted by the mayor in his response to the report.

“We really appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into it,” he said.

Some of the numbers: operating revenues for the town in 2021 were $20,970,000. Less than half of this comes from property taxes (just over $9 million). The rest comes from user fees, government transfers, licenses and permits, franchise fees and rental income ($2.7 million from the province for the government centre is the big one.).

Expenses were in line with revenues, with $403,000 being left over when all the ciphering was done. This will be added to reserves.

Motion: what’s up with that 115 grand?

Following up on the financial audit report, mayor Tyler Warman made a motion to have administration “bring forward a report and recommendations,” on an item on the town’s books. It is apparently a “long-term asset” of $115,000 that has “been on the books for a long time,” he said. No details were offered.

Looking at planning fees

As requested, council got a review of the fees the town charges for planning and development services. Presenting it was the interim (and former) director, Laurie Skrynyk.

Right off the bat, mayor Warman excused himself from the discussion, citing the possibility that he could be applying for a development permit (or permits) in the not-to-distant future and did not want the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“Me too,” said councillor Shawn Gramlich, and followed Warman out of the room.

The gist of Skrynyk’s presentation was that the fees the town charges are largely in line with what other municipalities of similar size charge, and often lower than the average. That was not what some councillors were expecting to hear.

“I’m surprised we’re mid-range,” said councillor Francesca Giroux. “We’ve been hearing about red tape – unreasonable fees.”

Councillor Steve Adams asked if Skrynyk had any recommendations.

“I think we’re right where we should be,” she said.

Asked about development deposits, Skrynyk explained the rationale. There once were a very large number of uncompleted developments, she said. The policy of requiring a refundable deposit was put in place to provide developers an incentive to get the projects finished, and it worked.

“We went from 80 to 100 to 12 to 15 a year that we’re chasing down,” she said.

Council accepted the report as information, meaning – at least for the time being – the fees will stay as they are.

Service levels for FireSmart

Councillors must be comfortable with current service levels for FireSmart, because the fire chief’s report on the topic provoked not a single question or comment.

FireSmart (which consists mainly of vegetation management aimed at reducing wildfire hazard in and around settled areas, plus a few other things) has been a going concern since the 2011 wildfire disaster. There was a lot of it at first (thanks largely to generous provincial government Disaster Recovery Program funds), and less recently. What survives is as follows, as presented in Pavcek’s report for council:
Hazard-reduction burning, mowing, participation in annual clean-up programs in Marten Beach, Widewater and Canyon Creek, home assessments (when requested) and presentations at local schools (also upon request).

The report was accepted as information.

Rec facility rates

Council also got a report on rates/user fees for town recreational facilities. A new set of rates is being proposed, to take effect in September, with a general two per cent increase.

Part of the report was a comparison of Slave Lake’s rates to those of similar communities. These were found to be “very comparable.” The rate for adult ice prime time ice rental is right on the average, while the youth rate is below the average.

Councillor Steve Adams asked why there are so many different types of passes for the MRC facility. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on annual memberships? People can’t afford that, was the answer.

Why don’t we invoice them every month, was Warman’s question.

A huge increase in paperwork, said director Jillian Hutchings.

“We don’t have the manpower.”

Fair enough, said Warman, but “I’d challenge us to look at opportunities.”

Shawn Gramlich had an idea. How about charging a two-dollar drop-in fee across the board, and see how much usage increases.

We just want more use, said Adams.

Warman agreed.

“I feel like every year we’re leaving revenue on the table.”

Councillor Brice Ferguson asked for more time to get his head around some of the figures in the report. Council will take another look at it on May 3.

Advertising in the MRC

Up for consideration was a bylaw with new rates for commercial advertising in the Multi Rec Centre. Councillors didn’t have much to say about the proposed rates, but plenty to say about how the town might sell more ads.

“I think we could be doing better,” said councillor Brandle, a sentiment shared by her colleagues. “I’d like to have a marketing campaign.”

Sure, said the director, but I simply don’t have time.

As an example of the kind of thing that there isn’t time for is follow-through on ads on the rink boards. Several businesses have agreed to do it, but don’t get around to doing whatever it takes to produce the ads that get put on the boards. The business people on council understood how that happens, and speculated that ‘one-stop shopping’ would work better. In other words, the business pays the whole price to the town, which takes care of everything. But the capacity on town staff isn’t there.

“I think we have an operational execution issue,” said mayor Warman, “not a rates issue.” He asked the director to look into ways of making things happen, including the idea of contracting out some of the ad sales work. The matter will be brought back to a meeting in June.

Rink advertising: room for more.

Economic Development Week

Per a request from a provincial organization, council has declared May 9 – 13 Economic Development Week in Slave Lake. What this means in practical terms isn’t a great deal. No special events are planned. But as acting CAO Garry Roth told council, making the declaration can “bring awareness.”

Town meets with Treaty 8

In his closing remarks mayor Warman spoke about a recent education session councillors and town staff had with representatives of Treaty 8. They learned about the history of Treaty 8, heard from residential school survivors and so on.

“I found it very informative,” he said.

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