Jan. 17, 2023 meeting
Chamber of Commerce seeks support
Slave Lake & District Chamber of Commerce manager Holly MacPherson made the organization’s annual pitch for funding. She listed the various activities, events and so on that the Chamber does, or hopes to do. She spoke about promoting the value of Chamber membership to local businesses so as to increase memberships. She spoke about the hope that the Chamber could become more self-sufficient, I.e. not have to rely on town funding.
Speaking of membership, the Chamber is holding what it calls a ‘community gathering’ on the evening of Jan. 31. Asked about this, MacPherson explained it is aimed at businesses generally – more or less what otherwise has been called a ‘membership meeting.’ These haven’t been held much or at all since the start of COVID three years ago.
“The goal is to be more business-focused,” said councillor Francesca Ward, who is also a Chamber board member. She added that the plan is to have four meetings per year, instead of the monthly luncheon meetings in the pre-COVID era.
Council made no commitments on funding.
Council also got its annual plea for funding from STARS Air Ambulance. Glenda Farnden made the same sort of presentation she’d given to the M.D. of Lesser Slave River council not long ago. The town hasn’t been one of the municipal funders (nor has the M.D.), but Farnden is ever hopeful.
Farnden had some good news on the funding front. The Government of Alberta has agreed to up its contribution from 20 per cent to 50 per cent of the cost of running the three STARS bases in the province. The other 50 per cent must still come from fundraising, and $2 per capita from Slave Lake would sure help, she said. Anything from a dollar to two dollars would be very much appreciated.
Farnden got no commitment from council. Mayor Tyler Warman said he appreciates the value of the service, but balks at having to fund what he sees as being solely a provincial responsibility (I.e. health care).
“The question is how many things can we take on that aren’t our area of responsibility?”
CAO report: recruitment, etc.
CAO Jeff Simpson reported that recruitment is on hold, pending completion of the budget, with a few exceptions. The hunt continues for a human resources advisor; also in progress are efforts to find a casual facility attendant, a junior lifeguard, a program coordinator and a recreation assistant.
In the planning and development area, the town is ‘working with a developer on the approval of two row-house developments.’
Fire department activity
The total number of calls for service to the fire department in 2022 was 538, 38 more than the previous year’s record number. Fifty of those were in the month of December. Of those, 26 were motor vehicle collisions and three were structure fires. And one explosion! (Apparently a minor gas line rupture)
The training facility at Hall #1 is looking to be pretty busy this year. Simpson said Northern Lakes College, M.D. of Opportunity and Big Lakes County are all looking at bookings.
Clean energy improvement program launched
The town is on board with something called the Clean Energy Improvement Program. It’s a Government of Alberta scheme to make energy-efficiency upgrades more accessible to home and business owners. It’s managed through individual municipalities, with the help of the provincial urban municipalities association (which these days is called simply Alberta Municipalities, formerly AUMA). Homeowners, for example, have access to “flexible, long-term financing through their municipalities.” They would be able to repay the loans over time on their property taxes.
Council was informed the town needs a bylaw to kick off the process. Accordingly, they gave all three readings to the Clean Energy Improvement Program bylaw.
How quickly the program gets implemented in Slave Lake is a good question, but if mayor Warman’s closing remark is anything to go by, it won’t be next week.
“The boulder is moving slowly,” he said.
Holding the line on development permit service levels
How long it takes to get a development permit is a touchy subject in Slave Lake. Councillors take some of the flak, which was probably why some of them objected to a proposal to lengthen the time the town is allowed for processing certain types of development applications.
Even in one case sticking with the 21-day processing time allowed raised some hackles. That one is to approve special event permits or food truck permits.
“Why don’t we make it easier for them?” asked councillor Shawn Gramlich.
In some cases, it’s other agencies needing to sign off on a special event application that holds things up.
It can be quite onerous, said councillor Kimberly Hughes, who has filled out several special event applications.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she said.
Gramlich wants specifically to make it easier for food vendors coming into town.
Complicating matters is the fact there is only one person in the department at the moment, and she’s not working full-time. However, the proposed processing times assume 1.6 full-time positions.
Mayor Warman speculated on what it would take for the town to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no,’ to people wanting a quicker turnaround.
In the end, a motion to approve the proposed service levels was defeated.
A second motion, by Warman, to get a report on what it would take to maintain current service levels, was approved.
We can do whatever you want, advised CAO Jeff Simpson. “It’s just money.”
Commercial ad rate policy goes ahead
On the third attempt, council finally was able to approve a new policy on digital advertising rates.
So for example, a for-profit advertiser will pay $95 per week or $380 per month for a spot on an outdoor digital sign, and a not-for-profit client will pay one half that amount.
On one of the town’s indoor screens, the new rates are $45/week and $22.50/week.
A second part of the proposal, also approved, was to recruit a salesperson to manage ad sales on the noted devices, on a commission basis.
Going for an ec/dev grant
Council was asked to give admin the go-ahead to apply for a grant that would cover half the town’s share of the cost of something called an ‘industrial land market and fiscal impact analysis.’
This, it has been deemed, is a necessary first step to see about the viability of opening new lands on the southeast edge of town for industrial development.
The town has already heard it could cost $4 million to get the land ready for development.
In the meantime, the province recently announced a new grant program for economic development in the north. This is the one that’s being applied for.
The analysis would look at market demand, market competitiveness, fiscal impact and identify possible land users.
Council approved the proposal.
Warman finished things off by commenting on a few recent developments. One is that the 2023 budget is getting close to being wrapped up.
“It’s not even the 11th hour any more,” he said. “It’s closer to the 12th hour.”
On the idea of increasing snow removal service levels, Warman expressed doubt that residents would go for something that would result in a three to four per cent tax increase. But let’s put the question out there and see what we get, he said.
Commenting on the flag ceremony with First Nations, Treaty 8 and the Métis Nation from the day before, Warman called it “a great experience to be part of.”
And finally, Warman wished “best of luck,” to staff member Garry Roth, for a second time. Roth had resigned back in June as director of community services, but stuck around for a few more months in different role. Warman said he is “moving on again,” this time to something “at the other end of the province.”