Nov. 14, 2023 meeting

Stage North

Council’s first piece of business was to listen to a presentation by representatives of the Stage North Association. After explaining what Stage North does (brings concerts and such to the Legacy Centre), the group’s vice president, Neil Deas, had five “concrete” proposals for the town. All had to do with the town helping to promote Stage North events via its online communication platforms. Councillors, who quite likely were expecting a request for money, seemed pleased (and maybe relieved).

“I couldn’t agree more!” was Councillor Kimberly Hughes’ response. “I commend your group.”

“I approve of all five,” said Councillor Ali Mouallem. “We’re lucky to have you in our community.”

Council accepted the report as information, and encouraged Stage North to meet with town staff to talk about the details.

Lifeguard program update: early success

A few months ago the town came up with a new way of recruiting lifeguards at the pool. It took some extra money, but it seems to be working. Tasha Albert, the town’s Community Services Director shared the good news with council.

What was done was to create a new casual position called ‘assistant lifeguard,’ open to 15-year-olds, who work and train under the supervision of senior lifeguards. Five people have signed up and are working in the role.

Going by the numbers, things have improved quite a bit. Albert provided pool usage figures comparing the June 7 – 29 period this year to the same period last year. The pool had 525 more uses in 2023, with a corresponding increase in revenue.

The main reason for adding the assistant lifeguard position was to solve staff shortage problems. These were forcing the pool to curtail programs and hours, council heard last spring. This has been alleviated now. Nobody is being turned away at the door, Albert said.

Private rental opportunities are also expanded.

Mowing, etc.

The contract for mowing town grass and other ‘green space’ maintenance expired in October of this year. Two local companies bid on the contract for the next three-year period.

The recommendation to council was to split the work into two pieces, giving some to one company and some to the other. This would keep it within budget, council heard.

Council made the motion as recommended – to award $57,745 worth of work to the Mourad Group and the rest to RyTrue for $44,382.

Janitorial contract awarded

The janitorial contract for the government centre goes to the Mourad Group. It was the successful one of six bidders on the two-year contract, for a price of $12,550 per month.

The previous contractor had been dismissed back in September, “due to unsatisfactory work performance,” according to the report in council’s agenda package.

Councillor Steve Adams wondered who the other bidders were. That’s better discussed in closed session, said the CAO.

Councillor Mouallem observed that with so much ‘weight’ given to ‘past experience’ (in the bid evaluation process), it puts new companies at quite a disadvantage.

“There is a value to experience,” observed the CAO.

Service levels at the reception desk

Roughly 85 per cent of the engagements with residents by town staff are not in person. In other words, they are by telephone or email.

Given those figures, administration is not recommending a return to lunch-hour service at the town office front desk. It was tried, during tax payment season, but hardly anybody showed up, council heard.

“Our business is turning more and more digital,” said CAO Jeff Simpson.

Council heard that a lot of the requests for help that come in to the town have nothing to do with town business. Questions about camping and beaches, for example, are common. Questions about government services, where to pay fines, if the ice is safe to drive on, where businesses are located and so on.

No changes were proposed and council accepted the report as information.

EV charger busier

The town’s electric vehicle charging station in the MRC parking lot had the fewest number of charging sessions in October of any month since it started. On the other hand, it had its busiest month ever in terms of kilowatt hours of power used. That was 1,306 vs. 1,178 in September, the previous heaviest use. September had 39 charging sessions; there were 31 in October.

‘Front-facing’ policies

Council was introduced to a new term – ‘front-facing’ policies and asked to approved a few updates. This apparently is the type of thing that is not internal, but deals with the public.

One of these policies generated a lot of debate; the rest flew by without even a raised eyebrow.

Councillor Brice Ferguson stirred the pot when he made a motion that the town’s policy on proclamations be severely limited, to just those related to ‘flag agreements’ and federal statutory holidays.

Ferguson had been doing some research. Even if you set aside the “frivolous” ones, he said this week alone there are 23 special causes that the town could be asked to proclaim. In a year there are well over 2,000, he added.

Councillor Steve Adams took exception, suggesting Ferguson was ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sure there’s a risk, he said, “but it’s part of our due diligence.”

“How do we differentiate?” asked Ferguson, sticking to his guns.

“This (motion) can not be passed,” said Adams, sticking to his. “It hasn’t been onerous,” he pointed out. “I don’t think the need to (restrict) it on the fear we’ll get inundated is realistic. It’s not an issue right now.”

Ferguson’s motion was defeated.

The 10 amended policies presented were approved in a separate motion.

Rural Renewal Stream

Councillor Ferguson told his colleagues the town’s program for facilitating the recruitment of foreign workers seems to have been a success. The number of people coming by his shop lately looking for work is higher than it has been for a long time, he said.

Councillor Mouallem concurred, having seen the same thing. He called it “a lot of weight off my shoulders.”

The Rural Renewal Stream program, he said, seems “more efficient than other programs that are out there.”

Mouallem added he has relatives in other towns that are asking about it.

Fire department

The CAO’s report included the detail that the regional fire service had 598 calls for service as of Nov. 7. That puts it well above last year’s number of 459 at roughly the same date.

November calls so far include three structure fires and four outdoor fires. Also 20 motor vehicle collisions and two responses to downed power lines.

In other news, volunteer numbers are up.

Town enforcement

The town’s bylaw officers were busy in September with 56 calls. Twenty-four of them had to do with animals, a dozen traffic and eight having something to do with the Community Standards Bylaw (which could be any number of things).

Twenty-four tickets were issued.

HR: hired and looking

The CAO’s report had the news that two new people have recently started at the MRC, plus one new firefighter has recently come on board.

Besides that, an operator for the MRC is being vetted and may fill a vacant position there. The new homeless shelter is still looking for workers – both permanent full-time and casual.

Board reports

Inter-Municipal – Mayor Ward said the management and operation and future of the Visitor Information Centre was discussed at the most recent meeting. So was the policing model.

Tourism Society – Planning is already underway for Beach Fest 2024, said Councillor Hughes. We’re looking for individuals and groups to get involved. The society has board seats in need of filling; the AGM is this Thursday, Nov. 23 at the VIC.

Protective Services – Hughes reported there are a couple of new highway sheriffs on the job in the area, patrolling the roads. There have been a lot of accidents lately, some of them fatal ones.

Emcon’s highway maintenance contract is up next August, Hughes said. Also discussed at the meeting was the “critical shortage of nurses,” and “daycare and housing needs.”

Hughes said she’d heard from Alberta Parks about a ‘mandate letter’ to increase camping spaces in provincial parks.

Municipal Planning Commission – Mouallem reported that Srini Jayaraman is the new chair, with Shane Knutson as vice chair. Two development permit applications were approved – one for a variance to a front yard in the northeast and one for a home-based business in the southeast. Seven new housing starts in 2023, Mouallem said – four single family dwellings, one multi-unit and two secondary suites.

Health update: renovations happening at the hospital

Councillor Mouallem reported on the most recent meeting of the Tri-Council Health Advocacy Committee. The group met the new site (I.e. hospital) manager, and heard the reception area is getting renovations. It’s looking as if two new doctors may start practicing in Slave Lake in the new year, which should reduce wait times.

M.D. Councillor Sandra Melzer is the new chair of the group, with Mouallem as vice chair.

Letter on rail service advocacy

A group called the Community Rail Advocacy Alliance (CRAA) sent a letter to the town, asking for $2,000 to help with its lobby efforts. The group is trying to get better service out of CN Rail for northern Alberta, and is also lobbying governments for the same purpose. Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton is on the board, as are a couple of industry reps and others.

Council accepted the letter as information.

State of the Lake

Councillor Mouallem put in a plug for the Regional Arts Council. It seems every week that group is organizing some sort of arts activity, he said, thanking the members for their hard work.

Mouallem also mentioned the Slave Lake Minor Hockey Association’s tournament it was holding on the weekend. It takes a lot of work by volunteers, he said, and it makes a big difference to the town. Seven teams were expected from out of town.

Councillor Gramlich had the last word: he spoke about it being Métis Week; he’d attended a flag-raising ceremony earlier that day.

Finally, Gramlich mentioned Smile Cookie Week at Tim Hortons (See photo on Page 10), which town councillors were participating in. The restaurant is donating the proceeds to the town for upgrades to parks.

by Joe McWilliams

This item copyrighted by / Lakeside Leaader   Slave Lake, Alberta

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