Councillor Goelbel Absent
Request For Decision (RFD)
Five RFDs were reviewed and then passed:
· 2021 Census Support: Statistics Canada is requesting that Municipal Councils make a motion of support for the 2021 Census. The result of the census will have an impact on many programs and services that benefit our community. The Council of Swan Hills supports the 2021 Census and encourages all residents to complete their census questionnaire online at www.census.gc.ca as accurate and complete census data supports programs and services that benefit our community.
· Advisory Board Policing Priorities: Council received the Report on Municipal Policing Priorities from the Alberta Police Interim Advisory Board. This report was developed by the Alberta Police Interim Advisory Board and sent to the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. The report deals with the Board’s recommendations for 2021-2022 policing priorities.
· 2021 Returning Officer Appointment: In preparation for the 2021 municipal elections to be held on Oct 18th, 2021, it is necessary to appoint a Returning Officer if the Returning Officer is to be someone other than the secretary (chief administrative officer or designated officer of a municipality). The returning Officer is responsible for ensuring the election meets the requirements of the Local Authorities Election Act. Council appointed Mr. Douglas Borg as the Returning Officer for the 2021 Municipal Election.
· Barrhead Victim Services Donation: Barrhead Victim Services is seeking donations to make various themed gift baskets for a raffle draw. The proceeds will be used to help with direct client services such as emergency hotel rooms etc. Council approved a motion to donate promotional items to Barrhead Victim Services for their gift basket raffle.
· Capital Region Assessment Services Commission Appointment: The Town of Swan Hills is a member of the Capital Region Assessment Services Commission (CRASC). This Commission looks after assessment complaints on behalf of the Town and assembles trained Assessment Review Board Service panellists to facilitate complaint hearings if required. The CRASC requires a Council member to be appointed as a representative to the Commission. Council appointed Councillor Kuyek as a representative, and Councillor Webster will serve as an alternate representative to the Capital Region Assessment Services Commission.
COVID-19 Municipality Update
The province released its Path Forward plan for reopening. Step 1 of the plan went into place on Feb 8th, allowing restaurants to reopen to dine-in customers with restrictions; school children are now allowed to participate in some sport and performance activities, including the use of offsite facilities, in groups of 10 or less; and one on one training is now permitted in gyms. These changes will allow Swan Hills to open up the swimming pool for private swimming lessons. Alberta will move to the next step (step 2) when hospitalizations related to COVID-19 fall below 450, with a three-week period between moving from one step to another. With the province entering step 1 on Feb 8th, the earliest that we would move to step 2 is Mar 1st. Step 3 requires hospitalizations to be under 300, and step four requires less than 150 hospitalizations.
The province announced the Critical Worker Benefit today, which will give a one-time payment of $1200 to around 380,000 critical workers in the public and private sectors. Workers will have to have worked at least 300 hours from Oct 12th, 2020, to Jan 31st, 2021. In the private sector, employers will have to apply for this benefit on behalf of their employees. Workers in the private sector have to be making less than $25/hour to be eligible. Workers in the public sector do not have to apply for this benefit; they will get it automatically.
Tax Assessment Discussion
The Town is starting to get the first round of residential, non-residential, and linear assessments. Preliminary reports indicat a drop in the Town’s assessments by $11 million, with the majority of the losses in residential assessments. Last year residential assessments totalled around $61 million, and this year the total is just over $52 million. Last year non-residential assessments totalled just over $32 million, and this year the total is just over $30 million. If Council decides to keep the millrate status quo, the town will collect about $182,000 less this year. The Town’s interim budget was built on collecting the same amount of taxes as last year; there will be some hard work to reconcile this discrepancy. Since 2015 there has been a drop of close to $64 million in assessments.
A number of factors affect the residential assessments, including the value of homes and the price at which homes are selling. The marketplace dictates the amount of the assessments. The two choices are to raise the mill rate or cut expenses. The expenses have already been cut so much that it is hard to see where more cuts are possible.
· The weekly briefings with Alberta Health continue. There isn’t really anything new coming out of these that the public doesn’t already know. Some of the municipalities were upset with the government regarding how they handled the restrictions on arenas. Many municipalities had asked to know whether arenas would be able to open or not by Feb 1st, as this was a deadline for the municipalities to make their decisions as to whether they would remove the ice from their arenas or not. The provincial government then announced on Feb 6th that limited school and minor sports training would be permitted in groups of up to 10 people, which included hockey.
· Preparations continue for the Safety Codes Council of Alberta audit, which will start on Feb 22nd, as well as the Safety Codes Council of Alberta self-audit (which is due in Mar.).
· Spoke with a representative from Alberta Parks about the campgrounds in the area. The province is willing to perform replacements and repairs on the facilities. They may enter into an agreement with the town where these details are in the agreement's appendix. They inquired about the cookhouse at Trapper Lea’s as the roof is in bad shape; do we want to keep it or tear it down? Councillors confirmed the desire to keep the cookhouse. The Town will be looking at entering 5-year leases for the campgrounds. It may take months to complete the repairs and replacements at the campgrounds, which is why these details would be added to the agreement in an appendix. The old cabin at Trapper Lea’s will be taken down because it is beyond repair and a safety hazard at this point.
· Work continues on the new Town of Swan Hills logo and website.
Operations and Infrastructure
· The Emergency Fire Water pump at the Water Treatment Plant is on hold while the Town reviews options to provide back up power to the building.
· The failed sewage lift station pump is delayed for an additional two weeks due to the pandemic.
· All regulatory requirements of the Transfer Station land disposition are now complete. The hybrid survey and the related documents have been submitted and accepted by AEP.
· The WTP has been having chlorine scale problems, which resulted in a system failure, Friday, Feb 5th. Capitol H2O will work through the problem to restore operations.
· Work on the fireguard may be able to start early, possibly by next week. Information on the fireguard project has been posted to the Town of Swan Hills Facebook page.
· The Town has received the first payment from FRIAA of $100,000 to get work started on the fireguard. More funds will be available as the Town submits more claims to continue the work.
· Mayor Craig Wilson reported on a town hall conference with Premier Jason Kenney, Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. A lot of questions were asked, but there were minimal answers given. There were a number of irate mayors over the issue of arenas, with the province having had been firm on not reopening the areas and then changing their minds on allowing minor sports such as minor hockey with restrictions.
· Councillor Dan Gosselin reported on an economic development working group meeting on Feb 8th. They discussed the Council’s decision on the new town logo and reviewed their asset list.
· Councillor Carol Webster reported on a meeting of the Yellowhead Regional Chamber of Commerce. One of the first actions they are undertaking is writing a letter to Premier Kenney on behalf of the Chambers of Commerce of Whitecourt, Swan Hills, Fox Creek, Onoway, and Hinton. The letter asks the province to re-evaluate the parameters for businesses' opening or closing to reflect the local COVID-19 risks.
-GROWTH Alberta and Wild Alberta will be holding two virtual tourism recovery meetings by Zoom on Feb 24th at 10 AM and Mar 3rd. The meetings will be capped at 20 people to facilitate discussion with tourism operators. They are inviting tourism companies and organizations to participate. They will be discussing strategies to develop and expand the tourism industry. The GROWTH executive board had a meeting. Councillor Webster will be sending out email invitations to local tourism operators, inviting them to take part in the regional tourism development initiative.
-The Government of Alberta has given GROWTH three options; amalgamate with another organization; close down this organization; or keep the organization going. The executive is recommending that the board move forward with re-establishing a new mandate and developing a new direction, and reviewing the membership structure. The full board will be meeting on Feb 23rd to discuss these options. Wild Alberta will remain open regardless of the outcome.
· Councillor Elizabeth Krawiec reported on the EDC working group meeting on Feb 8th. They discussed upcoming events; The Swan Hills Snow-Goers are hoping to be able to host the ASA Jamboree snowmobile rally on Mar 27th; Swancicle Days is tentatively booked for March 13 and 14, depending on what is happening with the public health restrictions, a final decision has not been made as to whether or not it will be cancelled. Communities in Bloom had their first meeting for the year last week.
-At the health board meeting on Feb 9th, the issue of needing nurses was highlighted; one nursing position has been open for two years, and one of the current nurses will be retiring soon. The Detox program at the hospital is still being well utilized.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette