Town of Slave Lake Council notebook

May 17, 2022 meeting

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Downtown and Main St.

Council received an update on the town’s Downtown and Main St. Area Structure Plan. It is council’s grand vision of how those areas would develop under ideal circumstances. The area is broken into several zones, each with its own characteristics.

The plan lists ‘issues’ (I.e. shortcomings) and ‘opportunities’ for each, identified in public engagement sessions. For example, poor lighting, no visual continuity and narrow sidewalks are cited as issues in the ‘Downtown North’ zone. For the ‘Downtown Core’ zone, lack of ‘pedestrian scale lighting’ is mentioned; so is ‘unattractive storefront displays.’

The list goes on. So does the list of ideas for improvement. For pretty much all of them, the town budget is noted as the funding source.

Connected with the plan is the town’s Urban Design Handbook

Councillor Steve Adams asked what the town has done to ensure development follows the guidelines.
“We encourage,” said Warman. “We do not demand.”

When it comes to downtown façade improvements, however, the town has received zero inquiries from businesses. Perhaps they haven’t heard that Community Futures is offering grants on easy terms for just that purpose, with the town committing to pay the interest.

Hiring

The struggle to fill positions at the town continues, but there was some good news for council. Acting CAO Garry Roth said in his report one ‘travel counsellor’ for the Visitor Information Centre had been hired. That leaves one position still open. Also, a day camp coordinator for the Summer Splash program has been hired, as has an operator in the public works department. Other vacancies are “in various stages of the recruitment cycle,” Roth said. That would include the chief administrative officer’s job.

Ice

Following councillor Steve Adams’ question about arena ice rentals, council heard only four to six hours of ice time are available per day. A shortage of staff is a factor.

Following up on that, mayor Warman asked if it would be more economical to leave the ice in, rather than taking it out and then having to put it back in for hockey schools in August.

“On the whole,” said Roth, “cheaper to leave the ice in.”

So it appears that will happen, although with some changes to availability in June, thanks to some “conversion” in the way the ice is made or maintained.

Plan ‘B’ for 3rd Ave. NW lot

Having been rejected by council a couple of weeks earlier on a re-zoning application, the owner of a 3rd Ave. NW lot was back with another application. This time it’s to re-zone the lot from RI (standard detached residential) to R2 (medium density residential). The owner wants to build a duplex on the lot.

Because it was for first reading, council did not discuss the application. That will happen at the June 21 meeting, following the required public hearing.

At a public hearing earlier this month, council heard from some of the neighbours, who were strongly opposed to the idea of a fourplex (what was proposed) on the site. Chances appear much better that the duplex alternative will get council’s blessing.

No credit cards?

Councillor Kim Hughes asked why payment of town bills at the town office can’t be done by credit card. Director of finance Roland Schmidt said there is a way to do it, but indirectly. The town has looked into accepting credit card payments in the usual manner, but there’s a cost that comes with it, estimated at $10,000.

Councillor Francesca Giroux pointed out that a lot of businesses deal with those extra costs by adding a surcharge for credit card use, which customers are often willing to pay.

“Sounds like council would like a report,” said Warman.

Councillor Hughes made the motion.

Fire dept. gets its truck

The regional fire service is due for a pickup truck replacement this year. Chief Alex Pavcek had some not-so-good news about that for council, along these lines: demand for pickups outstrips supply, and prices are accordingly higher than budgeted for.

“It’s very hard to find vehicles,” Pavcek said.

Pavcek further told council that with a bit of wheeling and dealing, plus downsizing, he’s managed to reduce the gap between the price of a new vehicle and the $60,000 budget to $8,000. His request was that council approve the increase. The extra eight grand can come from reserves, he said.

Council voted in favour of a Hughes motion to do just that.

FCSS grants

The town’s Family and Community Support Services department had received requests for grants from two organizations in the community. These require council approval, and FCSS coordinator Darcy Hoover laid out the case.

First, one of the longest-named organizations out there – the Northwest Central Alberta FASD Services Network Society (NCAFASDSNS) – had applied for $10,000 for its ‘Let’s Get Real’ program. This is for kids from Grade 5 to 12 and is provided in schools. According to Hoover’s written report, the program “provides information and support for students in the areas of healthy relationships, sexual health, consent, drugs and alcohol, pregnancy and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).”

Second, the Lesser Slave Forest Education Society had asked for $850 to help with the cost of putting on its summer camp for kids, called Enviro-Quest. It’s a day camp for ages 11 – 15 with a focus on forest-related learning and team-building activities.

Hoover’s recommendation was to grant $7,000 to the first group and $850 to the second. Council complied with that, with little discussion.

Service levels at the town office reception

This was another review, not requiring any decision by council. Council heard that in 2021, 5,700 people were served, either in person or on the phone. Plenty by email too, but those numbers were not recorded.

Hours of operation are back to normal, after a couple of years of pandemic-induced restrictions. Those hours are 8:15 to noon and 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Councillor Giroux asked about the arrangement of furniture in lobby. It “looks a bit institutional,” she said, and not very welcoming. She asked if it could be put back the way it was before.

“It looks like we’re still in the middle of cleaning protocols,” she added.

Big cheques

Per policy, cheques of over $50,000 must be reviewed by council. Director of finance Roland Schmidt had a list, as follows:

Central Square – $53,773 (annual software costs)
LSL Regional Housing – $69,842 (twice)
Wildfire Legacy Corporation – $75,000 (annual contribution for the Legacy Centre)
SL Airport Commission – $112,500
Rotary Club of SL Public Library – $304,334 (annual contribution)
AMSC Insurance – $460,263 (for all town equipment and buildings)
RCMP – $516,670 (first quarter costs)

Code of conduct

The town has long had a policy governing the conduct of councillors. In 2017, the provincial government amended the Municipal Government Act, stipulating (among other things) that municipalities had to have a code of conduct bylaw, instead of just a policy. It took five years, but the new Code of Conduct Bylaw was before council for approval. Except for one minor adjustment, council was all for it.

“This is stuff we all should be doing anyway,” said councillor Brice Ferguson, expressing his support right off the bat.

Mayor Warman was concerned with one item. It says council members can accept gifts of up to $100 in value, as long as they “normally accompany the responsibilities of office, and are received as an incident of protocol or social obligation.”

Say for example a government minister takes council out to dinner during the annual municipal government convention. Apparently that sort of thing happens once in a while. So what if, Warman said, the ‘gift’ of that dinner exceeds $100 per person? Somebody coming across that could accuse council of violating the code of conduct. To avoid that possibility, he said, how about upping the limit to $500?
Seems a bit high, said Ferguson.

At that, councillor Giroux said from a Canada Revenue Agency perspective, “non-cash gifts up to $500 are considered non-taxable. In this context,” she continued, “it’s not out of line.”

That information probably helped Warman’s case, and his motion to change the amount to $500 was approved. Council subsequently gave all three readings to the new code of conduct bylaw.

Mayor Tyler Warman

Covenant

A related matter was the approval of a document formalizing the protocols that guide the relationship between council and the chief administrative officer. It’s called a ‘covenant,’ and outlines the roles and responsibilities of both parties. For example, it says mayor and council will “not knowingly interfere with their (senior staff members) work and will coordinate concerns through the CAO.”

The CAO will (for example) seek to “ensure that council is aware of any key issues, and therefore mitigate the problems associated with surprises.”

The covenant is more than usually pertinent at the moment, because council is in the midst of interviews for the CAO position.

Rural Health Week

May 30 to June 3 is Alberta Rural Health Week. It would be whether town council proclaimed it or not, but they did. Or rather the mayor proclaimed it, after council passed a motion approving the proclamation.
The request came from an organization called RhPAP, which stands for Rural Health Professions Action Plan.

The proclamation urges community members to show appreciation for not only health professionals in their communities, but the volunteers “whose abilities and efforts enhance the quality of life in rural Alberta.”

The Oilers are coming

In his closing remarks, mayor Warman spoke first about the Edmonton Oilers alumni organization bringing a hockey clinic and some other activities to town, in conjunction with ATCO. He praised his council colleague Shawn Gramlich (perhaps a bit too highly), saying Gramlich gets “100 per cent of the credit) for putting it together.

“It’s a great chance to showcase our community,” Warman said.

Shawn Gramlich

Squeezing things in

The Alberta North Central Alliance was supposed to meet this week, but other commitments interfered. An attempt will be made to re-schedule it, Warman said.

This is the group of five municipalities and five First Nations in the Lesser Slave area. It has secured a grant from the federal government, and has a goal of getting together to do some strategic planning. The idea is to find areas of mutual benefit that could be worked on.

New rescue boat

Warman mentioned the emergency preparedness barbecue that happened on May 10. A highlight was the new rescue boat, a $130,000 unit that cost the taxpayers nothing, thanks to community donations. These included $75,000 from the Widewater Athletic Association.

Inter-municipal stuff

Warman said he and acting CAO Garry Roth had met recently with M.D. of Lesser Slave River reeve Murray Kerik and acting CAO Barry Kolenosky. Meetings of the inter-municipal committee have fallen by the wayside lately, due to busy schedules and so on. But it’s important to stay in touch, Warman said, and “a lot of things are happening behind the scenes.”

Warman called it “a great meeting.”

Two of the biggest matters of inter-municipal concern are the Fire Services Agreement and the Inter-Municipal Agreement. These involve a significant sharing of costs, and they are both up for renewal, requiring negotiations.

One of the things discussed at the meeting was the idea of getting one of the agreements out of the way before tackling the other one. Accordingly, Warman made a motion to authorize the inter-municipal committee to go ahead and negotiate the renewal of the Fire Services Agreement, “and recommend no changes.”

It’s the more straightforward of the two, Warman said, and shouldn’t take too long. Council voted in favour of the motion.

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