Peace River, AB residents have say at town forum

Peace River town council held a public forum on March 2 to address issues ratepayers had they wanted to be addressed.

Mayor Elaine Manzer, Deputy Mayor Orren Ford, and Councillors Byron Schamehorn, Don Good, and Shelly Shannon, attended to answer questions from the public regarding concerns in the town. Missing were Councillors Brad Carr and Marc Boychuk.

At the beginning of the forum, Ford addressed concerns regarding downtown theft and vandalism that has been occurring, noting that council is working with Royal Canadian Mounted Police to create a program to address the damage that has been occurring over recent years. He indicated there would be a public session in the near future to provide information about what will happen in the community.

A question was provided before the forum, asking if council had plans to create a 15-minute city. “Fifteen minutes cities are something that don’t really apply to small towns, particularly in rural Alberta,” says Schamehorn.

“For those of you who may be unaware, the idea of a 15-minute city is that in your neighbourhood you should be able to access services within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.”

Another individual asked where the town council was concerning the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, asking if there would be a referendum or a chance for people to have a say.

Manzer replied it had been discussed amongst their Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) and they’ve been focusing mainly on the items that came out of the TRC study. She noted that five flags have been erected at the park, as one the items recommendations of the TRC.

“That was to recognize that we are on Treaty 8 land and that we share these lands with the Metis, Inuit and Indigenous peoples who were here forever,” says Manzer.

“Recognizing that we’re sharing the land, town council has gone through and shared various cultural ceremonies with our Indigenous friends and partners in the region. We’ve had Elders come and explain various elements.”

Manzer adds Peace River town council was one of the first councils in the area to put up flags in the council chambers as a recognition that we share the land. Other things that have happened through the TRC is learning about the culture of the Indigenous, information panels in the park that include what the treaty was about, information about Metis people and Residential Schools. All the efforts, she says, is to explain the history of the region and how the land was used, and developed to what it is now.

“Many council members have participated in the blanket exercises, which explains how residential schools have affected generations,” she explains. “The blanket exercises we’ve attended have been tailored more to our Peace River region.”

She also mentioned the TRC promotes events such as the Pow Wow that occurs in the region, Sisters in Spirit Walk, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women efforts to recognize and learn to understand the situations that others are living through.

A question arose about current debt load council is carrying. Manzer said after the audit of the 2021 financial year, the Town had a total debt of $25,325,794, meaning that in the past 25- or 30-years various debentures have been undertaken creating that debt load. She provided information on annual payments and debt repayment plans.

“People wonder why there’s such a large debt and you have to look back at the things that the money has gone into,” says Manzer.

“It’s gone into roads, water infrastructure, the new reservoir in the south end, some work at the north end on the wastewater treatment plant, and sewers.

Part of the reason for changing to the utility model of pay for your service, is to take this debt and try to create a fund that is self supporting. So the water infrastructure and wastewater infrastructure will no longer create any more long term debt on the tax side of things.”

More information will be put on the town’s website in upcoming days to address the various ways that the council and administration have curbed its spending to ensure costs and tax demands are kept at a minimum.

A resident asked what the town was doing to curb spending in light of rising costs, noting that she and her husband were paying $500 per month on municipal taxes.

Good explained that no one wants unnecessary spending or increased taxes. He relayed a story about understanding what it’s like to live on a challenging income, and struggles in past years. He noted council members are normal people who are also affected by increased costs.

“We understand to a large extent the impact it’s having on people,” says Good. “I think there’s a sense a lot of times of ‘us and them’ and there’s a disconnect, but we feel the economic effects just as much as anybody. One of the things I’ve learned is that every single cost increase is felt negatively by people. Because we’re aware and feel the same pressures as you, we do as much as we can to not have unnecessary spending.”

Concerns were raised with the number of deer that are in the town wrecking lawns and posing potential harm to people.

Council members addressed the issue on a number of levels, but did suggest residents should quit feeding the animals to start curbing the issue.

Council has chosen to start addressing the issue, after Good brought the issue to be put on the agenda, by starting to educate the residents about the negative impact feeding wildlife can have.

Another resident questioned where the town’s recycling bins by the Redi Mart on the north end, he noted that the Eco Centre is not opened on weekends, making it inconvenient for individuals who cannot go during business hours.

Manzer addressed economic hardship that the company Peace Waste Management Company has dealt with regarding the loss of oil industry subsidization of municipal collection. It was why the company had to look at service levels, including the bins, and decided the bins needed to be eliminated.

They felt with curbside recycling available for residents and the Eco Centre open five days each week to take recycling that the bins were a repeat service.

“The Town wrote a letter to the waste management company and are in the process of opening it up on Saturdays for a limited time,” says Manzer.

“So spread the word so people use the service on Saturdays. We anticipate that this will happen sometime in the spring.”

The full recording of the forum can be found on the Town’s website.

Emily Plihal Local Journalism Initiative Reporter - South Peace News -

Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, South Peace News