Bruce Prestidge is just wrapping up his first term as a councillor on Woodlands County Council. “I like helping people, and this is a perfect position to do that. Everybody’s got their issues, but if you can help them get through it, it’s really rewarding,” he explained.
One thing that he didn’t realize going in was how much it took to operate the County. “I didn’t understand everything that revolved around Woodlands County. You see all our County pick-ups driving around and all our staff, and you wonder what they do. When you get involved in it, you realize that they are all busy. I have to give kudos to the staff,” said Prestidge.
He said that sometimes, it takes a “tooth and nails” fight to get something done. “When you finally get it through, it’s very rewarding.” Though money issues continue to plague the County, Prestidge said he’s happy that they put a five-year plan in place. “We are just ending year two, so we have three more years. We did a 15 percent rollback per year to save money, and we did the three percent tax increase, and we did a three million dollar a year cap on infrastructure projects. Yes, it hurt us in some ways, and it was difficult to make the choices, but when you look at the end result, you knew you had to do it,” he said, speaking to money-saving changes.
“The hardest thing for me is when you have a resident get in touch with you, and they have legitimate issues, and you try and help them, but there’s nothing you can do. Either there’s no money in the budget to do it, or there are legal issues. Not being able to help is hard,” said Prestidge.
One significantly positive change that Prestidge played a role in bringing to Woodlands County is Asset Management. “If you don’t have the tools to know what you have and what you need, it’s almost impossible to plan. We started putting Asset Management in, and one of our managers, Kara Kennedy, is spearheading it. She’s doing an incredible job on it. It’s going to help us for years to come.”
Prestidge said that he and Mayor John Burrows had questioned road maintenance. “We asked Administration how much it cost to fix a road per kilometre, and they didn’t know. If you keep putting patches on the roads and don’t know how much money you’ve put into it, instead of doing the patching, you could’ve looked ahead, fixed it properly to start with, and it would be done.”
Along with Councillor Ron Govenlock and Mayor Burrows, Councillor Prestidge attended a course on Asset Management in Calgary and knew right away that the County needed it. “It was the city of Calgary that sponsored it. They could tell you how often they have to change city signs. One that faces south deteriorates faster because of the sun, and they know when they will need to replace them. They have a handle on what their costs are and what their costs are going to be,” explained Prestidge.
He said the impact Asset Management would have on the County in the future is immeasurable. “It’s going to be a very, very good thing for us because it goes for budgeting too. You can look at the Asset Management plan and see that in 20 years from now, a specific road will need paving, so now we know to start putting money away to repave it. So, a negative issue with money is bringing positive change forward through Asset Management.”
Prestidge has owned property out in Blue Ridge since 1997 and started building a house on it with his wife, Jan, in 2006. “The property was our campsite until that point. We decided to move out here full-time and did that in the summer of 2009. It’s a beautiful area of Woodlands County. We are on the north bank of the Athabasca River, north of Blue Ridge. It’s quiet and has lots of wildlife.”
He said that getting to represent residents in Woodlands County is not something he takes for granted. “It’s such a beautiful place. We have rivers, hills, lots of trees, and fantastic people. It’s a prosperous place too. We have our two mills, Blue Ridge Lumber and Ranger Board by Blue Ridge and ANC.” Prestidge said that the employment they generate is unbelievable. “It’s hard to believe, but those two plants, Blue Ridge Lumber/Ranger Board, generate close to $100 million every year into this region. That’s just wages and contracts.”
Prestidge said he sees a lot of positive outcomes for Woodlands County. “Some say the issues we have with the Town are negative, but I don’t look at it like that. Going to arbitration, and working this through, is going to be a positive outcome. It’s going to be fair for both municipalities.” As for working on the relationships between the two municipalities, Prestidge, again, sees positivity. “We have opposing views, but we can agree to disagree and still be friends. You can work with people even when you don’t agree with them on some things.”
As of this interview, Prestidge hadn’t officially put his name in for the election yet but was pretty confident he would be. “I have talked to some residents, and they want to see me run again. I like being a councillor and getting to help people. It looks good that I’ll be running again.”
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press