Council projects proceed to draft budget

·7 min read

Councillors spent nearly two and a half hours discussing which of their operating project proposals would be included in the 2022 draft operating budget report.

Nine operating project proposals were submitted by council and seven of them received consensus to move forward for further deliberations.

Administration will present business cases on each of the proposals at the Jan. 14 and 15 Committee of the Whole Meeting where council will get their final say to include them in next year’s operating budget.

Council members who submitted the proposal had an opportunity to further explain their proposal at the Nov. 23 Committee of the Whole Meeting. The decisions to include these proposals in the draft budget report have no financial impact until a final decision is made in the 2022 budget process.

The first proposal presented a look into adaptable and progressive public transportation in Hinton.

Coun. Stuart Taylor suggested council consider a more efficient, on-demand responsive transit approach instead of a fixed-route transit option. An on-demand model means customers could call in advance to book a trip to a specific location and focus on the population most in need of the service. The on-demand model would use an outside transit provider, effectively nixing fleet costs, he said.

Interim CAO Laura Howarth said that in terms of the Freedom Express, the Town is under a fleet contract and that staff for the service are union members. This would prompt a conversation about contracting out union work, she added.

Council saw a benefit in looking at different options for public transportation in Hinton. Despite Mayor Marcel Michaels stating that this proposal was not high on his priority list, all of council voted to include this item in the draft budget.

The second proposal, submitted by Coun. Taylor, requested a reconfiguration of some bylaw and RCMP responsibilities, specifically who should handle traffic enforcement. The proposal stated that the Town pays $1.8M for RCMP services, which covers 70 per cent of the cost of 22 full-time RCMP officers.

One of the contractual responsibilities of the RCMP is policing traffic within the Town boundaries. Taylor questioned if the Town could afford not to have RCMP handle traffic and noted that the benefit of RCMP handling traffic is that they are able to check vehicles for other illegal activities.

Coun. Trevor Haas noted that the town currently doesn’t have bylaw officers, instead they have one community peace officer (CPO) with an obligation to do traffic control in the community. Hinton’s protective services director, Mac de Beaudrap, noted that the CPO enforces bylaws, executes traffic stops of opportunity, and patrol school zones. He said this topic is timely and looks forward to clarifying the roles and responsibilities with the police advisory committee.

Coun. Albert Ostashek was not in favour and said that community peace officers handling traffic helps to free up RCMP officers for incidents where they are needed.

Taylor suggested going back to a model where the Bylaw officer only enforces municipal bylaws and RCMP enforce traffic violations. This way, the vacant CPO position could remain vacant and save costs to the Town.

Howarth noted that the workload for CPOs has changed significantly and if the current CPO was unable to work, the Town would be left without any CPO. The protective services department just closed its application process and is beginning to look at applicants, said de Beaudrap. He added that without another CPO, there will be increased overtime costs.

Council voted down a motion to freeze the hiring process. While Taylor said the RCMP could provide backup for the CPO, Haas said expecting the RCMP to do bylaw and enforcement is not feasible.

The third proposal to be included in the draft budget is the development of the Boutin Lands in Hinton. This proposal was similar to another proposal to finalize a strategy for the adult housing development on the Boutin Lands.

Haas proposed the recruitment of a contract position for a period of two years for $180,000 to work on developing the Boutin Land area.

While not all of council agreed with hiring for the position, they did believe in pushing this project forward. Hinton has invested over $1M to purchase this land for the purpose of developing affordable housing, targeting the senior population.

Coun. Brian Laberge suggested taking proposals from the community of realtors instead of paying for a full time position. Taylor added that a plan to market the area is more important than hiring a full time position dedicated to the area.

The proposal will give council an opportunity in January to dive into details and pivot or change based on further information provided by administration, Michaels said.

The fourth proposal includes bike racks at key locations, such as the Green Square and the Valley Shopping Areas to allow citizens to travel by bike and have a place to secure them. Laberge noted this proposal stemmed from a conversation with a resident while doorknocking and was told there were limited places to lock up bikes.

“The cost would be minimal and it would be a great service, and really building out our bike community,” Laberge said.

Rob Osmond, Hinton’s budget process consultant, noted that this item could be brought forward as an operating business case or potentially be moved to a capital project. This will be addressed at a later date. Bike racks cost between $1,000 and $1,500 each, said Hans van Klaveren, Hinton’s parks, recreation and culture manager.

The fifth proposal looked at focusing economic development on measurable targets. This proposal was similar to another that proposed replacing the town’s economic development system with a specific project-based approach under the management of the town’s joint Business-Town Economic Development Committee.

Laberge suggested examining models for delivering a local or regional economic development service, including a potential ‘shared’ resource or contracted position provided by a strategic partner.

He said the cost of a fully funded economic development department within the Town makes it difficult to achieve results that provide value to taxpayers, and that a shared or contracted resource would reduce costs and improve value. He suggested a reduction in economic development of 50 per cent, or approximately $100K. The shared position could divide its time focusing on local and regional initiatives.

Ostashek raised concerns about losing the economic development department and with it their work on the Town of Hinton Economic Strategy.

“I would hate for that strategy to fall by the wayside and all the progressive initiatives that are in it,” Ostashek said.

Taylor stated the initiative could take over some of that strategy and that this proposed approach would be more target specific and measurable. Howarth suggested it was possible to discuss this item further in-camera as it deals with a specific department and administrative positions.

The sixth proposal would increase the level of service to maintain the cemetery grounds.

Ostashek noted that in his time on council, he has received more complaints about the state of the cemetery than any other green space in the community. He hoped increasing the maintenance at the cemetery could be achieved through a zero per cent overall impact by reducing service levels in other parks and areas. Reducing levels in other areas can be possible by something Ostashek called the “rewilding movement”, which restores sustainable biodiversity and ecosystem health by allowing it to go back to a more natural state.

The final proposal brought on a discussion around a three month Take-It-or-Leave-It Sharing Facility pilot project at the Rowan Street recycling compound.

Coun. JoAnn Race stated the Town already has a commitment from the Edson Recycling Depot to assist with rule setting and monitoring of the site at no contract increase throughout the pilot. The cost of the pilot project would consist of the rental of a seacan, estimated at $900 per month, she said.

Grant opportunities are available for pilot projects like this one, said Winston Rossouw, Hinton’s director of development and infrastructure services.

Maguhn pointed out that the financial implications would increase over time as additional staff would be required and the modification of the existing facility to fit the sea can. Race mentioned that the pilot project would require volunteers to get involved.

Council discussed moving the location of the pilot project to the landfill, but Race noted that not everyone has a vehicle to get out there. The pilot project would also provide answers around the impact to the neighbourhood surrounding the facility, Rossouw noted.

These proposals will be further discussed on Jan. 14 and 15 in context to the full draft operating budget and the operating business cases presented by administration. They may then be actioned to the Feb. 1, regular council meeting for decision.

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice

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