Tuesday, April 7 meeting
Town council held its first ‘e-meeting,’ with all councillors participating from remote locations and some staff members at the town office. Members of the public were able to tune in via the town’s YouTube channel. At one point during the meeting there were 26 people ‘attending,’ said town communications coordinator Christopher Brown.
So far, so safe
Interim CAO Gordon Lundy had some good news for council right off the bat.
“I’m pleased to say all employees are well, healthy and working from home as well as here on site,” he said.
Lundy also introduced the town’s newest employee. Wanda Sinclair will be helping in the finance department as a temporary taxation clerk.
Tax arrears shrinking
More good news; Lundy said payment arrangements had been made with the majority of the owners of properties whose taxes (from a couple of years ago) had not been paid. There had been 34 properties on the tax arrears list, he said; now it’s down to 11. Caveats will be registered on those properties.
“Great news,” said mayor Tyler Warman.
Lundy said the snow-clearing effort went fairly well. Thanks are due to the crews that did the work, he said, as well as the residents who helped out by moving their vehicles off the streets.
On the P&D front, Lundy said the town has received applications for several development projects. The biggest is from Big Fish Bay, for 130 new campsites. The resort on the northwest edge of town is also working on a storm water management plan with the town.
Lundy reported that the town’s peace officers are starting to get complaints from people about other people not observing social-distancing guidelines. Tickets would only be issued as a last resort, Lundy said.
One problem in need of solving is how much time bylaw officers are spending in looking after animals in the town’s shelter.
“It’s a very expensive way to handle animals in our community,” Lundy said.
On the rec side of things, all town rec facilities continue to be closed and programs are not running. All town events are canceled to April 30.
However, plans are afoot to launch a ‘virtual’ running and walking club, with prizes.
Council approved a ‘continuity plan’ related to the current virus pandemic.
It was modeled on a similar plan being used by the Town of Westlock and the Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Its objectives are to define ‘vital operations,’ provide authority to move to ‘emergency operations,’ ensure services continue, prevent loss of confidence and meet regulatory requirements.
“As long as we’re following provincial standards, I’m in favour,” said councillor Darin Busk, prior to the motion.
Council approved changes to three separate plans or bylaws dealing with a development application in the downtown zone. The applicant is the society that operates the Koinonia Christian School (SLKCS), which plans to expand its campus onto the former Fish & Wildlife property on 4th Ave. NE, which it has purchased.
Prior to the matter coming up for decision, public hearings were held on each of the amendments. The only person speaking up was Gordon Ferguson, who is the chair of the SLKCS Society. He told council the school in its current location is full, with a waiting list. The plan is to renovate the existing buildings on the new site, and house the elementary school kids there. He said the goal is to have the property ready for the 2021/22 school year. There will be space for a playing field and playground at the new site.
“We’re excited by the potential of it,” Ferguson said.
he plan had been to set up portable units for classrooms on the site, which was causing some concerns for the planning department, council heard. But that plan was changed, Ferguson said, when an assessment of the existing buildings showed that it would be safe to use them.
Council approved all three land-use changes with no debate.
No intern this year
Council reversed an earlier decision for the town to get involved in something called the ‘Municipal Internship Program.’ It would have seen a college student or two spend a few months training at the town. But given the current uncertainty, council thought it best to defer any involvement for the time being.
Micro greens okay
Another application council approved was for a micro greens production operation in the downtown area. This required an addition to the uses permitted in that district. Devon Phelps, the proponent, spoke up for the application at the public hearing that preceded the council meeting. He told council the idea is to grow and process the “super-nutritious” greens at The Flipside. It takes 10 days from germination to harvest, he said.
“Year-round?” asked councillor Joy McGregor.
“Yes,” said Phelps.
One member of the public who was attending the meeting (remotely, as all were) spoke up in favour of the proposal during the public hearing.
“I think this is tremendous for our town,” said Gordon Ferguson. “It keeps some money in our economy.”
Mayor Warman was also positively impressed.
“I think it’s very innovative,” he said.
Anticipating cash-flow problems, the town renewed its short-term borrowing bylaw – just in case. Such a bylaw has been in place since the 2011 wildfire disaster. It has never been used, said the report before council, but it’s good to have the option should it be required.
Council gave all three readings to the bylaw, which brings it into force.
How council conducts meetings
Changing the way council holds meetings is not a decision that can be taken lightly. The Municipal Government Act is quite strict on what can and can’t be done – particularly with regard to the ability of the public to attend.
Council had dealt with the idea a few years ago of allowing council members to attend meetings electronically if they happen to be away but want to participate. It was shot down at the time, which scuttled the backyard chicken proposal, because it ended up as a 3 – 3 tie – one councillor being on vacation at the time.
But times are different, and a recent resolution by the provincial government has cleared the way for electronic meetings for safety purposes.
Councillors were generally in favour, but councillor Brice Ferguson asked about the possibility of a “sunset clause,” so as to force council to get back to in-person meetings. That didn’t fly, but after approving the new procedures bylaw, council passed another motion calling for a review after 12 months.
Project manager Kush Patel brought council up to speed on various projects that are in process or contemplated for 2020. These include the hilltop reservoir upgrade, sewage lagoon upgrade, two or three sewage lift station replacements or upgrades, Gloryland roads and more.
It became clear right away in Patel’s report that the town’s thinking on these projects has changed. Patel assessed each one based on whether it could be deferred without too much difficulty. In many case the answer to this is ‘yes,’ and that is likely what will happen.
“Let’s hit the pause button,” said mayor Warman, summing up. “We’re not canceling these.”
Warman went on to cite capacity and budget uncertainty as reasons for deferring.
Stay the course
Warman finished off the meeting by talking about the COVID crisis and some of the challenges being faced by the community. A lot of people are worried about a lot of things and want answers that are not easy to provide.
“Stay the course,” said Warman. “Stay home. Wear gloves. Physical distance.
These are the things we need right now.”