Town Council News – Feb. 24, 2021

·7 min read

Councillor Daryn Watson Absent

Request For Decision (RFD)

Two RFDs were reviewed and then passed:

· Alberta Police Interim Advisory Board's (APIAB) Quarterly Report: Council received the APIAB's first quarterly report. The report outlines the work that the board has done since last October. A motion was passed to accept this report as information.

· Natural Gas Aggregation Round: The Alberta Municipal Services Corporation (AMSC) is offering customers who are in their energy program to take part in their next procurement round for natural gas. This will take advantage of buying at a lower price than the market price. These lower prices can be locked in for a duration allowing for budget stability and long-term planning. The Town's current natural gas pricing expires at the end of the 2022 calendar year. CAO Lewis will begin negotiations on a 2023 – 2026 contract to take advantage of lower pricing in a locked-down rate.

Correspondence & Information

· Community Futures/Ballad COVID-19 Fund Project Letter: The joint COVID-19 impact study is moving forward. The study explores employer/employee needs and workforce impacts due to COVID-19 and identifies immediate and future assistance for the business community and labour market. The Town has emailed all of the businesses that were on their initial list.

CAO Report

· Started the Alberta Safety Codes formal audit on Feb. 22. It is scheduled to wrap up on Feb. 26. The Town is also working with Superior Safety Codes to put together the information and review for the Safety Codes yearly self-audit, which is due in March.

· The kickoff meeting for the Fireguard project was held on Tuesday, Feb. 16. Work started on Feb. 24; Blue Ridge is currently working east of the fire road.

· Met with Sea Hawk consulting on Feb. 11 to review Emergency Management items and reviewed the audit of Fire Services.

· Working with Alberta Parks to finalize the agreements for the operation of local campgrounds. With the Freeman Lake campground, there is the potential that they will replace the outhouse, perform some tree clean-up, and provide picnic tables and fire rings. The Town is also exploring the possibility of Alberta Parks doing some repairs on the camp house.

· Working on the Statements of Financials and Expenditures (SFEs) for the Municipal Stimulus Program and Municipal Operating Support Transfer grants for the province.

· The next Statistics Canada population census will take place in May 2021. There does not appear to be anyone from Swan Hills that has applied for the census worker positions with Statistics Canada.

· The Provincial budget is scheduled to be tabled on Thursday, Feb. 25. There are not a lot of hints from the provincial government as to what it may contain.

· The COVID-19 vaccination program has opened up to seniors that were born in 1946 or earlier. The response has been overwhelming; by 10:00 AM, AHS had 9000 people booked for vaccination appointments. There has been frustration because the system did reach the point that they couldn't handle the volume of calls.

· The province is supposed to move to Step 2 of the COVID-19 reopening plan on Mar. 1. The province had indicated to the municipalities that they would be given roughly a week's notice of potential changes, but so far, there hasn't been any information beyond a hint that changes may be announced on Mar. 1. It is unclear if the province will move fully into Step 2 or if only part of the Step 2 changes will be implemented. There are some complications; while the hospitalization numbers are below the threshold to move to the next step, the R number (a measure of a disease's ability to spread) is still higher than the target value.

· Douglas Borg, the Returning Officer for the 2021 Municipal Election, will be coming for a meeting on Feb. 26 to start the preparations for the coming election.

· The lease for the 50+ building is coming to an end. The Town will be reviewing the lease to see if there are any changes needed before it is renewed.

Operations and Infrastructure

· Upon further evaluation of the Emergency Fire Water pump replacement project, we have decided that powering all internal equipment in the event of a power outage is a more effective solution for the facility. In an extended power outage, we would maintain full capability at the reservoir, not only for our ability to fight fire in this condition but to continue full service to residents and businesses alike.

· The failed sewage lift station pump is still on backorder due to COVID.

· Our level one operator at WTP has now completed course requirements for distribution level one and will write their final exam to complete this course as soon as it is practical.

· The Public Works Supervisor has resigned. We will be interviewing for this position over the next few weeks.

Reports

· Mayor Craig Wilson reported on a meeting with the Barrhead and District Social Housing Association on Feb. 17. The meeting was held at their new facility and included a tour. Phase one of the Hillcrest Manor building has been completed and has passed all of the municipal standards (plumbing, heating, mechanical, etc.) and is waiting for the lodge's approval. Once this has been completed and residents can move into the building, demolition and then construction will begin on phase two.

-There was a Golden Triangle meeting by Zoom. The Swan Hills and Fox Creek areas are in excellent shape, but the Whitecourt area isn't in very good condition due to mild weather and lack of snow.

· Councillor Carol Webster attended the Growing the North Conference last month, noting the Economic Developers Alberta (EDA) is working on an economic recovery tool kit with free downloads for municipalities. They have also been working on an insider app for a support local initiative. A disaster management tool has been completed for businesses to develop a ready-made disaster management plan. Webster has shared the document with local and regional Chambers of Commerce.

-Community Futures Yellowhead East (CFYE) met on Feb. 18. The board approved their 20/21 budget and operational plans and approved the application of a SIP grant (Sectorial Initiatives Program). This provincial grant offers up to $2.5 M/year for 3 years to a total of $7.5 million to assist key sectors of the economy in identifying, forecasting, and addressing their human resources and skills issues.

-GROWTH AB met on Feb. 23, inviting CFYE and Ballad consulting to assist the group in determining the future plans for the organization. Made up of 6 regional municipalities, the board plans a restructuring of the non-profit group with a strategic planning session in March with the intent to explore membership and organizational restructuring.

-The Regional Chamber of Commerce met on Feb. 24. The Alberta Chamber of Commerce has received a $4.5 million grant to help out smaller Chambers of Commerce, which will soon be rolling out to C of C’s across the province. Two new business support programs were introduced: The Canada United Grant (administered through the Government of Ontario) is open to all Canadian Businesses offers $5000 in funding to businesses with revenue of $150,000 to $3 million to recover costs related to COVID-19 (PPE, renovations, e-commerce development, etc.); the second is the Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit which will take over from the Small and Medium Enterprise Grant (which will conclude on Mar. 31) to provide up to an additional $10,000 to the small businesses that have been impacted the hardest by the pandemic.

· Councillor Elizabeth Krawiec also reported on the Grow the North Conference. There was great information on winter and shoulder season tourism as well as the future of hydrogen.

-Communities in Bloom will be setting up a meeting to discuss planning for the year. Councillor Krawiec is now the Chairperson/contact person.

· Councillor Jeff Goebel received a notification about the upcoming wellness fair and sent it to a wildlife biologist in the area to inquire about adding a bear awareness demonstration to the proceedings.

· CAO Bill Lewis updated Council that the wellness fair has been moved to September in the hopes that the pandemic conditions will be more favourable.

Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette