June 2, 2020 meeting
RCMP Staff Sgt. John Spaans started his report to council with a piece of good news. There was a 13 per cent decrease in reported crimes for the reporting period. In the category of crimes against persons, it was down 24 per cent. This was for the year ending at the end of March, 2019.
Other interesting tidbits: Slave Lake has more RCMP members per capita than the average in Alberta, but also more cases per officer (147 vs the provincial average of 97).
Police paperwork mounting
Spaans’ main purpose for reporting to council was on the detachment’s financial plan. There are some looming expenses. He listed them: Naloxone units (for opioid overdoses) have to be replaced. New Wi-Fi capability ($11,000), new ‘conducted energy weapons, line speed upgrades and camera upgrades.
It isn’t clear, Spaans added, whether funding for some of these (and other) items will be coming from higher levels of government.
Spaans also spoke about the ever-increasing burden of paperwork on officers. It has been suggested that more administrative help would ease this and allow the members to spend more time responding to calls and investigating. As it is, police are being pressed to process the people they arrest immediately. It used to be, Spaans said, they could put someone in cells, and then head back out and deal with a couple of other things. Not anymore. This increases the amount of time the arresting officer is ‘off the street.’ Hiring another clerk would ease this situation – but it would be up to the town to pay for it.
The CAO report for council included the news that peace officers are investigating three recent dog attacks. No details were provided. The bylaw officers are also looking into a case of illegal dumping of diesel fuel in an alley in the northeast part of town.
Town peace officers have responded to 264 incidents so far this year.
Spot repairs of roads in Gloryland have been much appreciated, mayor Tyler Warman reported. He invited his colleagues (and perhaps anyone else listening in) to visit the intersection of Ross and Rice streets to have a look.
“It is better, but it is sad, to say the least,” he said.
The town has a plan to re-do all the unpaved streets in that neighbourhood, but it has been on hold due to COVID-caused uncertainty. Warman said there was a possibility of getting some provincial stimulus money for it.
Summer Splash dead in the water
There had been talk of running the town’s Summer Splash (a day program for kids) in a modified form, but that isn’t going to happen. Council was informed the town has pulled the plug on it due to provincial restrictions on day camps making it too complicated, not to mention expensive. The town charges $25 per day; increased staffing to meet the requirements would hike the cost to an estimated $75 per day.
“The program just isn’t economically feasible,” says the written report from interim CAO Gordon Lundy.
Getting the FIR out the door
Council gave its approval to one last bit of business having to do with the 2019 financial report. It’s a wrap-up report that has to be sent to the province, called Financial Information Return (FIR). Council made the required motion with no discussion or debate.
Service levels in planning and development
Last year council decided not to replace one staff member in the planning and development department, thus reducing personnel by one third.
Council also asked for a report on the impact on service levels, several months hence. This was presented by the director at last week’s meeting.
The gist of the presentation is that the various permits issued by the department have been well within the prescribed time limit, even with fewer people to do the work. For example, 21 permits were issued this year up to May 25. On average it took five days for permits approved by the development officer and 20 days for those approved by the municipal planning commission.
In other words, so far, so good.
“This will likely change if there is an increase in the number of permits being applied for,” says the written report. “However, at this time, we continue to process applications within the new service level.”
Repair shop approved
Council gave the final two readings to a bylaw change that allows a local company to set up an industrial equipment repair shop in the M4 – Small Holdings Industrial District. This was after a public hearing on the bylaw change, at which nobody expressed an opinion one way or the other.
The planning department does have some reservations, council heard, about safety and space for turning big trucks. On the other hand, the lot in question (on Balsam Rd. NE) is one of the bigger ones in the district. The recommendation was to approve the addition of the use, but on a ‘discretionary’ basis, so further applications can be considered on a site-by-site basis.
Thumbs down to fee waiver
A local company will have to pay a $1,000 development permit fee. Council turned down a request from Complete Waste Solutions for the waiver on its application for a bunkhouse on an industrial property in town.
The report for council states that in March of this year the town found out about the existence of a bunkhouse on a Caribou Trail property after receiving a complaint about it. The owner of the property “was surprised to hear that his renters did not have a permit,” says the written report in council’s agenda package.
The department reached out to the company, giving it a deadline to apply for a permit. No answer came. Next came an ultimatum; apply or face a stop-work order. That prompted a response, which was a phone call stating the owner could not afford the fee and since there was only one person in the bunkhouse, “does he really need to apply for a permit?”
To date, council heard, a proper application for a permit had still not been received.
“There is an attitude in our community of ‘just do it and ask for forgiveness later if caught,’” says the written report. “We cannot continue to allow this to pervade.”
Councillors were not sympathetic to the fee waiver request.
“There’s a very real cost to the town,” said councillor Brice Ferguson.
A motion to waive the fee was unanimously defeated.
Appeal group tweakage
Council gave its stamp of approval to a renewal of an agreement with nearby municipalities to team up on a Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. This is the body that hears appeals of decisions made by the respective Municipal Planning Commissions on development proposals. It’s tough for individual municipalities to maintain these boards, which don’t meet often but require a lot of training. So teaming up for a one ‘super board’ was thought to be a good way to go. It has worked so far, council heard, but a few adjustments were needed. For one thing, the other partners aren’t happy with the funding split. Slave Lake was having the most hearings, but only bearing a quarter of the cost. So the formula changes – whoever calls the meeting covers most of the costs. In 2019, Slave Lake held five appeal hearings; Big Lakes County had one and High Prairie and Swan Hills had zero apiece.
Another change was to reduce the quorum for meetings from five members to three.
Managing the assets
Council already approved $58,000 this year for an asset management program, mainly for the software required. Now there’s a chance of getting a grant to cover some of those costs – up to $50,000 – from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The question before council: should the town apply? Answer: Yes!
Progress Unlimited gets the gig
Council approved an agreement with a firm called Progress Unlimited for the provision of economic development services.
The agreement on the details of the contract followed the choice of Progress Unlimited at an earlier meeting.
“We went through it last week in detail,” said mayor Tyler Warman. “We need to be able to promote our community. We dedicated funds to make it happen.”
Interim CAO Gordon Lundy told council, “I think you have an excellent contractor.”
The founder and CEO of Progress Unlimited is Lisa Baroldi of High Prairie, who spent several years in an economic development role for Big Lakes County.
New rescue boat
“Another good news story,” said Lundy, on behalf of fire chief Alex Pavcek, who couldn’t attend the meeting. The news was about the upcoming purchase of a new rescue boat for the regional fire service. The Firefighters’ Society has been raising funds for this for some time, council heard; what put them over the top was a recent contribution of $75,000 from the Widewater Athletic Association.
“It’s 100 per cent community funded,” he said.
Commenting, mayor Warman called it “A huge win for all of us.”
Lundy said the fire department in Wabasca is interested in acquiring the older rescue boat.
Affordable housing: stuck in the mud
The long-anticipated affordable housing project for Slave Lake seems to be stalled. Commenting on the situation, mayor Warman said, “It feels like the vehicle is stuck in the mud with the wheels going around and around.”
The Regional Housing Authority had the go-ahead on the project several years ago, with funding committed from both the provincial and federal governments. The latest version was to be an apartment complex of something less than 20 units, to go at a location in the northwest part of town that currently accommodates single-family subsidized housing units. But there’s been no movement on the file from the new provincial government.
Warman said the town was “impressing on the MLA the importance to our community.”
On the pandemic front, Warman remarked on how quiet things have been in Slave Lake the past few weeks. He noted he is seeing “different approaches” to striking a balance between risk and “life goes on.”
There’s no doubt, Warman continued, “we are going to see COVID in our community again.”
Those highway upgrades….
Mayor Warman had updated news on the previously announced resurfacing of sections of Highway 2. What the government didn’t say in its initial announcement, he said, was that the work probably won’t all get done in 2020. The design work might be, with the actual resurfacing to be completed in 2021. The clarification came in the form of a letter to the town from Transportation Minister Ric McIver. Among other things, it says:
“Alberta Transportation anticipates having the overlay projects on Highway 2 completed prior to the end of the 2021 construction season.”
“I think we’ll feel some bumps along the way yet,” said Warman.