April 14, 2020 meeting
No town fire ban for now
The Town of Slave Lake won’t be mimicking the province’s ban on fires on Crown land in the Forest Protection Area and parks. Introducing the topic, interim town manager Gordon Lundy said he’d talked with the fire chief about it and they’d determined there was no need to ban fires in backyard fire pits for now.
Parent Link, etc.
The Parent Link program has ended and the building it once occupied is now just a storage space. However, Lundy told council something called Family Resource Network funding was announced recently by the Government of Alberta and “we might get funding for two positions.” What those positions would be he didn’t say. Lundy did say the new funding arrangement “likely won’t include rent.” (See next week’s Leader for more on this story.)
Council received a report on how property value assessment works. This is an annual exercise to help councillors understand it, because they tend to get questions about it from property owners.
The gist of it is that there is a definite relationship between the value of your property and how much taxes you pay. But a change in assessed value doesn’t automatically mean property taxes will go up or down accordingly.
As mayor Tyler Warman explained, if the amount needed to run the town doesn’t change, the tax burden will remain the same. How it affects individual property owners does depend on property value assessment. That is what the assessors estimated your property’s value to be in July of last year. The assessment can be appealed.
Councillor Julie Brandle pointed out that those value assessments do not always match up with property value appraisals that owners might have done. But when it comes to the tax levy, the assessment is the one that counts.
The professional assessment company the town hires bases its value estimates on a variety of factors. One of the big ones is what properties in various categories have been selling for.
Council accepted the report as information.
Improving asset management
Council gave the okay to spend some money on a new asset management system. It’s a software package and some training by the company that provides it.
As explained by Garry Roth, the idea is to have a reliable system in place that keeps track of the health of town facilities and their components. The whole point, Roth said, “is that we don’t have surprises down the road when we’re doing capital planning.”
Councillor Brice Ferguson asked if the town has been meeting the requirements of the Municipal Government Act when it comes to asset management. We have, Roth said, but it’s not adequate. “We feel we have a lack of information in knowing lifespan.”
The cost of the program is about $59,000. This was the least expensive of three options that were looked at, Roth said.
Councillor Brandle asked about the capacity of town staff to handle more work.
“It’s a challenge of course,” Roth said, adding that once the system is up and running, he’s confident town staff can handle it.
Council passed a motion to spend the money for the system.
Last year the town started inviting nominations from the community for individuals and groups deserving special recognition. The response has been good. Maybe too good, because it has morphed into something council didn’t anticipate. Accordingly, council asked for the brakes to be applied and a policy developed to guide the program in the future.
The policy started as way of recognizing local sports teams with notable achievements, said the mayor in his remarks.
“It’s grown into a number of things,” he said. “It’s too generic. It became confusing for council and for people that were were applying.”
As proposed, the policy set out criteria for recognition in six categories. These are Arts and Culture, Community Supporter, Environmental Stewardship, Professional Achievement, Sport Excellence and Distinguished Achievement. Warman said he thought the first three categories were still too generic. He asked “a little stronger wording,” aimed at narrowing down eligibility. Otherwise, “we could be doing 50 of these every meeting and still not get them all.”
Warman’s other recommendation was that certain categories of recognition be passed off to other recognition programs, such as the one the Chamber of Commerce does, or the volunteer recognition awards that the Friendship Centre holds annually.
Regional Housing Authority
Certain “anomalies” delayed the passing of the 2020 budget, councillor Brandle reported. But those had been dealt with and she predicted the budget should be passed “tomorrow (April 15).” Asked if there was any news on the capital project (affordable housing unit for Slave Lake), Brandle said, “nothing at all.”
In other news, the M.D. of Opportunity has withdrawn its proposal to reduce its financial contribution to the housing authority.
Tri-Council Health Advisory Committee
News from this group was mostly good, as reported by councillor Joy McGregor. Zero active cases of COVID-19, she said. And clients of the Family Care Clinic (FCC) can expect same-day appointments.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen that,” McGregor said.
There is a plan to accommodate ‘through-window’ visits at the long-term care facility, McGregor said.
At an earlier meeting (March 12), councillor Ferguson had learned that the FCC serves a population of 13,500. Forty per cent of the appointments are handled by nurses. Eight physicians are employed at the clinic, with a ninth expected in late summer or early fall.
Libraries remain closed, but things are happening and others are being contemplated. McGregor reported the board held its recent meeting via ‘Zoom’ technology. One thing members learned is about the hygiene being practiced by employees. Some of them are developing and delivering online programs.
The possibility of “curbside pickup” of library materials is being discussed. McGregor said the board is “mixed on this.”
No meetings, said mayor Warman, but there have been some discussions among board members. With the facility closed, revenue has dried up. A big part of that is rent from the daycare, which is also not making any money.
“It will likely have an impact,” said Warman, meaning – presumably – on the town budget.
Two letters were in council’s package. One was from TC Energy, informing the town of some work it is doing at ‘Pelican Mountain.’
The other was from the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry on the province’s efforts to combat the mountain pine beetle. It requested municipal help in lobbying the federal government for funds for the cause.
Warman spoke about a provincial tax-deferral for businesses that has put municipalities between a rock and a hard place. It’s the education portion of non-residential property taxes. Municipalities collect those education taxes on behalf of the provincial government. The awkward part of it is that although the town doesn’t have to collect the non-res education levy, it still has to submit the amount to the province!
Warman had no solution to the dilemma.
“Lots of frustration,” is how Warman led off this topic. Roads are bad and that includes ones in the town, he said.
Warman said on the town side, there is a plan of action to deal with the potholes and they will get fixed. However at the moment the focus for operations crews is getting water flowing off the streets and into proper drainage channels.
The condition of area highways is another question. Warman said he sent a letter to the minister to remind him of the situation. He noted that following a request by the town, “a couple hundred people” sent in letters to the ministry requesting action on bad highways.