Town of Slave Lake Council notebook

Sept. 12, 2023 meeting

Joe McWilliams

Lakeside Leader

Policing update

Slave Lake RCMP acting detachment commander Sgt. Casey Bruyns provided council one of his regular reports on crime statistics and policing. Much of it was the same as he’d shared at the policing online town hall a couple of weeks earlier. For example, the not good news that property crimes were up 16 per cent in Slave Lake over the previous reporting period. That, alongside the good news that such crimes in the M.D. of Lesser Slave River had dropped by 40 per cent in the same period.

Bruyns told council RCMP had put an increased focus on reducing rural crime in the last year or so, in response to a lot of incidents of theft that were happening in rural and industrial locations. It seems to have had an effect, but in the meantime, it got worse in town.

“It’s a balancing act,” he said, on “where to put our members.”

One thing police have been doing more of lately are what he called ‘street checks.’ This entails stopping “suspicious-looking’ people, just to see who’s out there and what they’re wearing” and so on.

On the personnel side of things, the detachment has been without a Staff Sgt. for 18 months and counting. It has also been one constable short, Bruyns said, but a new one is on the way, to bolster the general investigation team (I.e. plain clothes). He said as a result he expects them to be “producing a lot more warrants under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and hopefully do some door kicks.”

Councillor Kim Hughes asked about recent thefts from vehicles that were being discussed. If people don’t report it, we don’t know about it, Bruyns said. Such reports can now be made online, as well as in person at the detachment.

Looking at the financial side of things, councillor Brice Ferguson asked about the reason for so much overtime. It’s often officers covering for others who are off sick, Bruyns said. Or in some situations “extra bodies” are considered necessary.

Streamlining the development process for shelters

Council’s next item of business was an amendment – or series of them – to the Land Use Bylaw. According to the report, it’s ‘an effort to streamline the development approval process,’ for developments that don’t easily fit into the usual mold, due to ‘unique land-use characteristics, necessity for innovative ideas, or unusual site constraints.’

Judging by what followed, it is mainly aimed at smoothing the way for approval of shelters for homeless people. The report proposes four properties be moved out of their current zoning into something called Council Direct Control. That means when the time comes to decide what can or can’t be done on them, the decision comes to council and doesn’t go through the Municipal Planning Commission.

Councillor Steve Adams questioned the need to do it as proposed, but his colleagues seemed to be okay with the idea. The motion to proceed as recommended passed first reading by a 5 – 1 vote, with Adams the lone ‘nay’ voter. It will next go to a public hearing, scheduled for Oct. 3.

The four lots are on 7th St. NE, (next to the town public works yard), 6th Ave. SW (by the MRC), 3rd Ave. NE (the old medical clinic property) and the southeast corner of the fire hall property.

Capital project extras approved, with some opposition

Council got an update on an impressive list of capital projects that were undertaken in 2023, from project manager Kush Patel. Many are complete, or nearly so, and many also under budget.

However, a bit more money is needed to finish the downtown revitalization project; three other amounts were requested to round out the work or get other stuff done.

The list of projects runs to 27 in total. Three new, unbudgeted things had been tacked on to the end, which administration hopes it can proceed with this year.

The first of the add-ons is related to Item #27 in the capital projects list – the so-called ‘server migration.’ This is a $120,000 job to replace server hardware with new equipment “capable of increased storage capacity.” It’s expected to finish $20,000 under budget, and admin. is proposing to use that 20 grand to replace 30 desktop phones. The existing ones will no longer be supported, the report says.

Also requested was $25,000 for rec facility improvements and $50,000 for preliminary work on a new site for a new RCMP detachment.

Can’t these new things wait until budget time? asked councillor Ferguson.

Councillor Adams agreed, at least for the RCMP one.

CAO Simpson made the pitch for doing it now, as until an environmental assessment is done on the proposed site, the process is basically stalled.

Council voted 4 – 2 in favour of a motion to approve the extras, with Ferguson and Adams opposed.

E/V charging station busy

This project was budgeted at $131,000 and came in $5,000 under that. It was fully funded by a grant.

Councillor Adams asked about revenues vs. operating costs for the charger. Simpson said he didn’t have that comparison handy, but did have usage numbers for the first two months.

“We had estimated 300 kilowatt hours per month,” he said, “and it’s four or five times that.”

There have been 29 individual users; where they are from isn’t captured, but it’s known anecdotally some are from out of town.

“Word is traveling,” Simpson said. He’d even heard of people coming to Slave Lake “specifically because there’s a charger.”

Downtown needs a bit more work

This project is substantially complete and has come in slightly over budget. What’s left is to install some benches and an ‘art feature,’ council heard.

For the art piece, a proposal was submitted by the Regional Arts Council. Since then, the town has been working with a consultant on how to get it designed and made. The general idea – pending council feedback – was to have a beach scene on a concrete pony wall, as well as a ‘vertical art panel.’

The proposal further calls for the term ‘Working together for our people’ to be included, in Cree syllabics. Administration was asking council for an additional $200,000 to complete this work. The report noted that the 3rd St. SW rehab project was $400,000 under budget, and the 200k can come out of road reserves. Council approved the proposal.

Business gaps and ec/dev priorities

Next up was a report by the town’s manager of communications and economic development, Jason Swanson. The town had engaged an Edmonton firm to do a survey of Slave Lakers, asking them what sort of businesses are lacking or what else they’d like to see in town.

The results – as noted by councillor Kim Hughes after Swanson’s report – contained no surprises. People think more tourism services would be good; more retail stores; more restaurants, etc. Hughes, who also sits on the regional tourism board, said that group “is working on a lot of these points,” and is “making some headway there.”

Councillor Ali Mouallem asked if the town is working with developers to address obstacles – or for that matter looking at what other municipalities are doing in this regard.

CAO Jeff Simpson mentioned a study the town had done not long ago, comparing its processes and development fees. It showed Slave Lake is more or less in the middle range when it comes to development costs. As for all the various requirements, they are “pretty uniform” across the board, he said, very much regulated by provincial legislation.

CAO report

The town has lots of followers on social media, but not nearly as many as it would like signed up to its service. This is the method by which residents can provide feedback on town initiatives. The town is hoping it can take the place of – or at least supplement – other types of surveys, or open houses.

In other communications news, the new outdoor digital signs are up and operating. Commenting on this, councillor Adams said the signs are “so much clearer,” and, “I can read them!”

Rural Renewal Stream Portal

This program is the one where the town serves as a sort of liaison between businesses wanting to hire foreign workers, and workers looking for such employment. The CAO reported three new businesses signed up since the last month, bringing the total to 24. Further, 38 letters of endorsement (part of the process) have been issued to individual job-seekers. Seventeen of these are for newcomers; the rest are from people already here who are seeking permanent residency.

Meanwhile, letters have been sent to nearby municipalities, offering administration services for their Rural Renewal Stream programs (it’s quite a lot of work), for a fee.

Fire department

In August, the Regional Fire Service responded to 64 calls for service. Almost half of these were in response to alarms, and would for the most part only have been answered by the duty officer.

Of the rest, 14 were for motor vehicle incidents and 13 for medical co-response.

The service deployed resources (people and equipment) to Hay River and Fort Smith NWT in August. The people are back, but the structure-protection trailer was still in service up north as of the time of the report (see more on Page 3).

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