Since it flew its first air ambulance mission in 1985, the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (better known as STARS) has amassed a lot of experience providing critical health service in its helicopters.
The current Covid-19 crisis, however, has been challenging.
During Crowsnest Pass municipal council’s Nov. 10 meeting, Glenda Farnden, senior municipal relations liaison for STARS, attended virtually to provide council with an annual update.
As with so many organizations affected by the pandemic, funding is the main operational issue facing STARS.
Revenue from its lottery is down $1.2 million, and regular funds provided through calendar sales have dropped 50 per cent.
STARS is also in the process of updating its fleet to a total of nine new Airbus H145 helicopters. By 2022, five helicopters will be used in Alberta, three in Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba.
The H145s boast improved safety features and manoeuvrability, as well as better fuel efficiency and flight speeds.
The total bill for the fleet update is $135 million — $13 million per helicopter plus associated costs like pilot and mechanic training along with ground control equipment.
The bulk of the funds has already been provided by municipal, provincial and federal governments, but $30 million still remains to be raised through the STARS capital campaign.
Compounding the financial challenge is the rising cost of running missions and training pilots, all while dealing with health effects associated with the pandemic.
More and more flight missions addressing critical stress-induced conditions like heart attacks, strokes and overdoses are being performed. Thirteen per cent of all missions directly aid suspected and confirmed Covid-19 cases.
While current economic and health conditions leave many operational questions up in the air, support from communities, Ms. Farnden said, keeps the STARS organization grounded.
“During this time of distress and uncertainty, we must rely on community partners like you now more than ever,” she said.
“The one area that has remained staunch and unwavering is the support that STARS receives from our municipalities. We are truly grateful.”
The municipality gave $5,000 to STARS in October as part of its annual funding agreement, which Mayor Blair Painter said was money well spent.
“Council and our community really appreciates what STARS does in our area. I don’t know if you can put a price tag on that — saving a life,” he said.
The $5,000 funding to STARS is included in the 2021 budget package, and deliberations will take place over the coming weeks and months.
Though acknowledging that municipal coffers will be short some $2 million as a result of the provincial and federal governments withdrawing support, Mayor Painter said the importance of STARS to the community needed to be emphasized.
“I’m really hoping that we can continue the support that we’ve given you in the past,” he said.
Municipal development plan
First reading of the municipal development plan bylaw was unanimously passed by council.
MDPs establish a municipality’s course for future growth, particularly by identifying how residential, industrial and recreational development will occur.
A public hearing will be held at the Dec. 8 council meeting, where the bylaw’s second reading will also take place.
Given the effect the bylaw will have on residents, council also directed administration to make the draft bylaw available to the public on the municipality’s website.
“I think this is important enough that the public should have the chance to read it, even in draft form,” said Coun. Dean Ward.
Draft copies of the bylaw have also been distributed to stakeholders like Livingstone Range School Division and the MDs of Ranchland and Pincher Creek.
Council approved the municipality’s participation in the Southern Alberta Ortho Photo Partnership, which is paid for by municipalities across the region and headed by the MD of Willow Creek. Crowsnest Pass will contribute $10,000 to the project.
Ortho maps are used by landowners, real estate agents and land developers for accurate depictions of local geography.
Images are created by taking photographs from an airplane.
The maps provide greater resolution than satellite imagery, allowing an accurate historical record to be kept in the event a natural disaster like a flood alters property lines along creeks or roads.
Though Crowsnest Pass has participated in a similar project through the Oldman River Regional Services Commission, previous ortho photographs have focused only on urban areas. Partnering with the MD of Willow Creek will allow for a flyover of the entire municipal boundaries, giving useful information for rural areas of Crowsnest Pass. Information provided in ortho images is often used in securing provincial grant funding.
The flyover of Crowsnest Pass will occur during the next imaging flight, which has yet to be scheduled.
With the end of 2020 inching closer, council reviewed the third-quarter development statistics and financial report.
Though the economic crisis spurred by the pandemic carries a looming sense of foreboding, the municipality’s Q3 was positive.
The value of residential projects being developed to date is greater than last year’s total despite the municipality issuing less permits, indicating that more expensive developments are being completed.
Overall, the development department has functioned as normal despite the pandemic, though in-person meetings have switched to communications over email or telephone.
Financially, Crowsnest Pass is about on par with expected levels of expenditure and revenue. Since the Q3 report represents progress made through 75 per cent of the year, the municipality’s spending 64 per cent of its budget and receiving 89 per cent of its annual revenues is right around where it should be, indicating Crowsnest Pass is on track for remaining on budget by the end of the year.
Two issues raised by community members were considered by council.
The first involved a letter addressed to council from a resident who had a negative experience with a volunteer from the SPCA shelter in Hillcrest. The letter also expressed concerns about the length of time dogs are kept at the shelter.
Despite wanting to adopt a rescue dog, the resident was unable to arrange with the SPCA an adoption and eventually resorted to going to another town to adopt, the letter said.
Council directed administration to forward the letter to the SPCA.
A second letter, signed by multiple residents living in Valley Ridge Estates, requested additional budget consideration for maintenance of Valley Ridge Road.
The residents expressed concern that despite efforts to grade the gravel road, its washboards are consistently rough. The letter requested that the road be oiled with a sealant to keep the gravel and dust in place.
The conclusion council reached was that gravel roads are the reality for residents who decide to purchase property in rural areas.
Administration was directed to send a reply to the residents explaining council’s position, as well as describing the difficulty of maintaining rural Valley Ridge Road in the manner requested, given the large total distance of roads the municipality is responsible for.
The next regular council meeting will be held Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m. at the MDM Community Centre. Agendas are available on the municipality’s website at https://bit.ly/CNPagenda.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze