Town of Slave Lake Council notebook

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Council’s Dec. 12 meeting lasted one hour and 48 minutes and started off with presentations from two delegations. Five councillors were present, with councillors Ali Mouallem and Steve Adams absent.

Children’s Resource Council

This High Prairie & District Children’s Resource Council (CRC) provides services to the region for young kids and their families, through various programs. A town councillor sits on the board and council had asked for an update on how the agency is organized and what services it offers in Slave Lake.

CRC Executive Director Naal Sharkawi explained the ‘hub and spokes’ model, with High Prairie as the hub and Slave Lake one of the spokes. Parent education and home visitation are two of the big focuses of the organization, Sharkawi said – the home visitation program being the biggest one budget-wise, at about $220,000.

Boisvert filled council in on the programs she oversees in Slave Lake, which is a quite impressive array of things aimed at helping new parents and children. One is called ‘Brighter Futures, Next Steps.’ It has 61 families involved and over 100 children, she said. The babysitting and ‘Stay Safe’ programs are also very popular, she added.

Councillor Kim Hughes asked if opening an office in Slave Lake had resulted in more clients for CRC programs.

It has, said Sharkawi, by 30 per cent.

How do you publicize your services, was Hughes’ next question. Answer: social media, word of mouth and via the town’s FCSS.

Hughes said she hadn’t been aware of the breadth of programming and will “be spreading the word.”

Wrapping up, Mayor Frankie Ward said the challenge the town sees with every organization it is associated with is “marketing,” and encouraged all efforts to improve that.

We have the same issues in High Prairie, said Sharkawi.

“Our organization has existed for 26 years, and there are still people that don’t know that we exist.”

Chamber of Commerce making plans

The Slave Lake & District Chamber of Commerce made its annual budget-season visit to town council. The faces were different, but the message was more or less the same as it is each time: Here are the services we provide, and we’d love to continue to receive funding from the town.

Presenting were new Chamber President Brenna Emes and new Chamber Manager Jennifer Simpson.

The main Chamber accomplishments in 2023 were Riverboat Daze and the Moonlight Madness event. The business awards gala has been put off until February, Simpson said. A trade show is coming up as well.

“We’re hoping to bring back a golf tournament,” Simpson added. Some sort of an ‘oil dinner’ is also under discussion, to celebrate the important role of that industry.

One job Simpson tackled and mostly accomplished in her brief tenure is bringing membership dues up to date. These lapsed during COVID, she said, but it’s all shipshape now.

Cutting to the chase, Councillor Shawn Gramlich – clearly suffering from a cold – asked how much the Chamber was asking for.

“In the past it has been $10,000,” Simpson said. “We’d be more than grateful to receive that again.”

Council made no promises on that score, but did say they’d be discussing it during budget deliberations, which are already underway.

Mayor Ward, in her concluding remarks, said she’s always thought the role of the Chamber. More than anything was “ to serve as a point of connection between businesses and the community.

“I think there’s really good momentum,” Ward continued, “and I like the new ideas.”

Youth advisory council: it might happen

Council had asked town administration to look into the idea of creating a group of community-minded young people to advise council on issues that concern the youth. The result was a proposed terms of reference for a youth advisory council, presented by Community Services Director Tasha Albert.

The role of the group, according to the proposed TOR, would be to advise council on issues, as noted, advocate for youth, promote activities, seek input from other young members of the community, provide leadership and set goals.

As envisioned, one councillor would sit on the board, and a town staff member would take notes and produce minutes.

Councillor Brice Ferguson said he was worried about adding to the workload of town staff.

“I don’t think it’s onerous for one person,” said Albert.

When would it start, was Ferguson’s next question.

If the TOR is approved, we could start recruiting in January, Albert said.

There was some discussion about what age range should be targeted for the group; some councillor thought 12 to 18, others thought a bit older. But in the end, council accepted the TOR as presented.

Tax recovery sale

Council got the annual tutorial on how and why tax recovery auction sales happen. The rules are laid out in the Municipal Government Act, and that’s what the town follows

The short version is if property taxes are unpaid for long enough, the town can put the property up for public auction, sell it and recover the unpaid taxes from the proceeds.

In practice, a handful of properties make it to this stage each year, but most don’t get as far as the auction, because the owners make last-minute tax payment arrangements. The rules allow for this.

“We do work as best as possible with every person,” Director of Finance Roland Schmidt told council. “The last thing we want to see is these properties go to auction. But sometimes there’s nothing else you can do.”

Sometimes there are no bidders, in which case the town may try again the following year. According to the written report in council’s agenda package, “in some cases, if a property remains unsold for 15 years, it may be transferred to the municipality.”

The report goes on to say, somewhat cryptically, that “special cases may arise, necessitating unique handling, depending on specific circumstances.” These are not explained in the report.

Policies updated

The town is engaged in a process of reviewing and updating policies. At each Committee of the Whole meeting (once per month), council gets another batch of these to approve (or not, if it wishes).

This time there were four, mainly with what CAO Jeff Simpson termed “cosmetic changes.”

Council took the cue and rubber-stamped the works by way of a single motion, with zero discussion or questions.

The policies in question had to do with development charges (increased to reflect costs), public hearings, certificates of compliance and encroachments onto public lands.

Committee reports

Housing – Mayor Ward reported she is the new vice-chair of the Lesser Slave Regional Housing Authority, with M.D. Councillor Brad Pearson returning as chair. Things are “fairly stable,” she said, with about 45 people on the waiting list, overall.

Tourism Society

The society has been successful in getting a couple of grants recently, reported Councillor Hughes. Otherwise, planning continues for next year’s Beach Fest event. There are some board seats in need of filling.

Otherwise, the society is working with the Alberta North Central Alliance on tourism promotion, with a focus on getting more prominence for local features on the Travel Alberta website. This turns out to be quite a lot more complicated than was anticipated.

Airport

The consultant working on a master plan for the airport held an open house recently, reported councillor Ferguson. About 20 people showed up – mainly airport users. Their observation is there is not much space for expansion on airport lands.

Ferguson said the consultant’s comment about the airport was that it’s at “a good starting point” with regard to maintenance and repair.

Waste management

Ferguson reported that the landfill is on pace to have “a decent year.” On the other hand, there’s about $3 million in expenses looming. How to deal with that is a challenge the commission faces.

Another challenge is to figure out how the new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program affects the business of recycling.

CAO report

CAO Simpson’s report for council started off with the usual update on the town’s communications efforts. All the various online comms platform offerings saw higher numbers last month except one – that one being the town’s Instagram ‘reach,’ which declined seven tenths of a percentage point. Otherwise, more people signed up for Engage Slave Lake and Voyent Alert. Facebook page visits jumped 30 per cent and town website visits were up a modest but respectable 5.6 per cent.

Worker recruitment

The town’s foreign worker recruitment service has participation from 29 employers, council heard, up two from the previous month. Letters of endorsement (for people wanting to come here to work) were up 10, to 54.

Meanwhile, letters to nearby municipalities, offering Rural Renewal Stream services (for a price), have generated zero interest.

Positions open

On the HR side of things, Simpson reported the town is still looking – or is in the process of making offers – for a shelter worker, an MRC/parks worker, an animal pound keeper and lifeguards.

E/V charger

The town’s electric vehicle charging station continues to out-perform expectations – suggesting those expectations were simply incorrect.

So far, October has seen the heaviest use, in terms of power consumption if not numbers of charges. It saw 31 charging sessions, using 1,306.88 kilowatt hours of electricity. September’s numbers were 39 sessions, and 1,178 KW/h. November was down to 21 charging sessions, using 928 KW/h.

Fire dept. activity

The fire department dealt with 52 calls for service in November. Of these, one was for a structure fire, five for ‘outdoor’ fires, a dozen for vehicle collisions, nine for medical co-response and – oddly enough – a couple of elevator rescues.

Bylaw enforcement

Town peace officers responded to 36 calls in November, the CAO reported. Seven of these had to do with animals. Four tickets were issued.

Officers continued to spend a lot of time at the dog pound. The town is attempting to hire somebody to do this job.

Correspondence

In council’s package was a letter from Community Futures on the Beautification Loan Partnership with the Town of Slave Lake. This is the one where CF offers storefront upgrade loans to businesses on easy terms and the town agrees to pay the interest on the loans.

Good deal, but the program has been a complete dud so far. Not that the letter used that term – just that no loans have been issued so far.

CF would like to continue the program; as interest rates have gone up, this would require an adjustment in the town’s financial commitment for its part of the bargain.

Let’s talk about it during budget discussions, said Councillor Ferguson, and made a motion to that effect. It was carried.

Switching gears from pine beetle to fire prevention

Another letter in council’s package was from Hinton Mayor Nicholas Nissen, to Todd Loewen, the provincial Minister of Forestry and Parks, with copies to around 20 municipalities. It urges Loewen to consider changing the Mountain Pine Beetle Control Committee into the Wildfire Prevention Committee.

“The pine beetle infestation, though significant, pales in comparison to the potential devastation wrought by uncontrolled wildfires,” says Nissen in the letter.

‘We’re #1!’ (and #35)

Mayor Ward wrapped things up with a few plugs for upcoming events and a few ‘thank yous.’ First she mentioned the final All Seasons Market of the year, at the MRC field house on Dec. 16. The Tim Horton’s Smile Cookie campaign was successful again, Ward said. The $10,000 raised was split between the town (for new trees in Hilda Eben Park) and the Tim Horton’s Foundation. Ward added the Slave Lake Tims was the top Smile Cookie seller among all 394 Tim Hortons in Alberta this time around, and 35th in Canada.

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