Council’s Aug. 22 meeting started with three delegations – two parties seeking a break on tax penalties and one an opponent of the suggested location of the homeless shelter for this coming winter.

A break on those penalties, please

Gloryland resident Gordon Ferguson started things off. He’d neglected to pay his property taxes last year for his company and over a few months racked up a big bill in late penalties. He told council when he discovered his mistake he’d paid off the taxes in full and was now asking for “some relief” on the penalties, “because it’s so high.”

“Due to the fact this was not intentional and that I have never been late in paying property taxes in the 40-plus years of owning property in Slave Lake, I would ask mayor and council to forgive all or part of this excessive penalty,” he said in his letter to the town.

Council was split right down the middle on the issue, which didn’t turn out well for Ferguson.

Councillor Julie Brandle was strongest in opposition to giving any relief. She noted that council had previously turned down similar requests. If we grant this one, she told her colleagues, “are you prepared to go back to every other delegation that’s come to council” (and give them a refund)?

Councillor Shawn Gramlich was for giving the relief. He made a motion to do that, choosing a figure of 50 per cent.

The vote ended up 3 -3 (Brice Ferguson did not take part), which amounts to a defeat. Ferguson will have to pay the $3,787.13 in penalties he owes.

Opposition to homeless shelter location

Edie Klassen, on behalf of the Big Fish Bay Resort, informed council of the company’s opposition to the proposed location for a homeless shelter this winter on the fire hall property.

Klassen’s reasons were unchanged from the ones she’d shared with council a year ago. Having homeless people hanging around is bad for business. She cited incidents – break-ins, confrontations, illicit use of shower facilities – that sort of thing.

“It has caused us lots of hardship,” she said. “Please find another location.”

To suggestions the users of the homeless shelter aren’t the ones stealing things, Klassen said several stolen Big Fish Bay items had been found at a homeless camp.

Councillor Ali Mouallem said if the shelter does go in the proposed location, what could the town do to make the situation better?

Promise that it won’t go there again, said Klassen. If we get a guarantee, we won’t appeal.

Klassen also reiterated her charge from a year ago that the addition of the walking path connecting 6th Ave. NW with Caribou Trail (hence Big Fish Bay) has been a bad thing for the resort.

“It brings in loads of bad traffic,” she said.

Council spent quite a bit of time talking about pros and cons, until Gramlich reminded them of the business at hand: I.e. to decide whether the Homeless Coalition’s application for planning permission for the shelter should be allowed to go to the Municipal Planning Commission. Brice Ferguson made the motion in favour, and it was carried, 7 – 0.

Rates for Rural Renewal Stream admin.

Council gave all three readings to a bylaw change that will see the town charging $10,000 to neighbouring municipalities who want the Town of Slave Lake to administer their Rural Renewal Stream program (RRS).

The RRS is a community program by which employers can find foreign workers. The town became registered (by the province) in the program earlier this year and has since been playing a sort of broker role between employers looking to hire foreign workers and foreign workers looking for jobs.

According to Jason Swanson, who made the report for council, there is “a common theme” among municipalities that they underestimated the amount of time and resources it would take to administer the program. A recent example is Big Lakes County, which back in June decided to get out of the RRS due to the unexpected extra workload. Slave Lake’s program has been quite successful so far, and Swanson figures it could handle more work. With the $10,000 fee per municipality, if the burden becomes too great, the new revenue could be used to hire more staff.

The town will offer it services to Big Lakes, and the M.D.s of Opportunity and Lesser Slave River.

Update to fees for cots, etc.

The town and M.D. bought 800 folding cots earlier this year, so as to be ready when Slave Lake was called upon to host evacuees. Since then, the idea of renting the cots to other communities arose, and a price for that needed to be added to the Fire Services Bylaw.

Speaking in favour of the bylaw change, Councillor Ali Mouallem said, “This asset is going to depreciate whether we use it or not, so we might as well use it as much as we can.”

Tax incentive for commercial/industrial

Council hopes a tax break on new development will stimulate some growth in town. The bylaw to make it happen passed all three readings and so is now in effect.

The idea is to “encourage the development or revitalization of non-residential properties,” says the written report in council’s agenda package, “for the general benefit of the municipality.”

The encouragement comes in the form of sizeable tax exemptions for the first three years of such developments. The town is hoping to both attract new businesses and “promote expansion of existing investors,” with a tax break on the portion of taxes “attributable to the differential between the pre-construction assessment and the post-construction assessment…”

There are all sorts of conditions and considerations – too many to include in this report. The bottom line, though, is that eligible properties get either a 75 per cent reduction or a 100 per cent reduction (depending on the value of the expansion) in the first year. In most cases it declines in the second and third years.

Councillor Steve Adams was the only councillor with any serious concerns about the proposal – although it wasn’t so much with the idea of the incentives as the fact many non-conforming downtown businesses wouldn’t be able to take advantage of it. Since any expansion would force them to become compliant, he said, they would in effect be blocked from doing it.

But for most of council, that seemed beside the point. And as CAO Jeff Simpson said, the downtown area structure plan is up for review next year, when such issues can be discussed.

The vote in favour of enacting the tax incentive bylaw was unanimous.

Traffic bylaw update: school zones and lower speed limits

Council voted in favour of two changes to the town’s Traffic Bylaw. First, playground zones (30 kph) will now be in effect from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (on school days only?). Previously, the school zone speed limit went into and out of effect throughout the day, based on what were considered the busier times (drop-off and pick-up).

Secondly, where not otherwise posted, the speed limit in town drops from 50 kph to 40. According to the report presented by fire chief Alex Pavcek, this in effect means 40 in all residential areas, and 50 where posted on ‘collector’ roads, such as Main St. and Caribou Trail.

The vote wasn’t unanimous.

“I’m not in favour,” said councillor Brice Ferguson. “I believe it’s unnecessary.”

However, Ferguson voted in favour of going directly to third reading, which must be unanimous when all three readings are to be done at a single meeting.

Updated bylaw on water and wastewater passes, in spite of objections

Council approved an updated version of the town’s water and wastewater bylaw, but not unanimously. It was mainly a matter of bringing things up to date “to current standards,” according to the written report.
The bylaw had come for approval in early July, but did not receive unanimous consent to go to third reading. The dissenting councillor on that occasion was Brice Ferguson, who again had a beef with some of the wording of the bylaw.

Specifically, Ferguson didn’t like the clause stating that the CAO has the discretion, “after all is said and done, to require someone to connect. I don’t think we should have that power.”

CAO Simpson pointed out that the clause was in the bylaw already, so if the updated version was defeated, it wouldn’t make any difference on that point.

Council voted in favour of a motion to approve the new bylaw, with Ferguson opposed.

Snow removal service levels

As it does just about once per year, council took a look at snow removal service levels. It’s a topic that is guaranteed to generate lots of complaints every winter, regardless of what the town does or doesn’t do.

Director Calvin Couturier went through the basics, which are pretty well known by now: for example, how many hours or days the town crews have to clear snow off the various classes of street. Another clause in the policy is that property owners have 24 hours to clear their sidewalks after a snowfall – with some exceptions. One of these is if snow is being stored on your side of the street. Another is on some streets that the town does, relieving the adjacent owners of the responsibility.

Councillor Steve Adams asked about a situation in Springwood, where the alternating snow storage policy doesn’t seem to make sense to him. It would make more sense to always pile on the side with the no-parking zone.

We used to do that, said Couturier. People complained about it.

“Why do we clear sidewalks in front of some place and not others?” asked councillor Ferguson.

It’s a program that was put in place quite some time ago, he was told. It’s called ‘selective sidewalk clearing.’ It can be altered if council sees fit.

Inter-municipal agreements

Council gave its stamp of approval to a couple of new agreements between the town and the M.D. of Lesser Slave River. One deals with sharing peace officer resources (how, where, when, etc.) and the other has to do with the operation of the Visitor Information Centre.

It assigns responsibilities and rights with regard to the operation of the building. The M.D. operates and maintains the building, for example, and the town organizes the visitor information services.

Town office hours

Councillor Ali Mouallem brought up the matter of the town office being closed during lunch hour.

“I’d like to look at being open,” he said, adding that it seems to him it would be convenient for the public, many of whom are free only at lunchtime to come and pay bills, etc. Council had just heard, in fact, from a person who had come to pay his tax bill, but found the door locked; subsequently he forgot about paying his taxes. Had the town office been open, he would have paid and a lot of hassle been avoided.

“I think we need to show that we want to be more accessible,” Mouallem said.

We can look at it, said CAO Simpson. He noted, however, that there were various reasons why being open over the lunch hour had not worked very well before.

Speed limits

Councillor Adams brought up the recent changes to the speed limits in town, which are now 40 kph unless otherwise posted. One of the remaining 50 kph zones is Main St. Adams’ view is that 50 is too fast for the downtown core.

South of the tracks I can see 50 as making sense, he said. But things get very busy and congested, with lots of schoolkids walking and riding bikes at times. He favoured a drop to 40 in that zone.

Adams didn’t get much sympathy from councillor Ferguson.

“How many signs do you want?” he said. “We’re going to create mass confusion.”

“I just think that downtown core is deadly,” said Adams.

by Joe McWilliams

This item copyrighted by / Lakeside Leaader   Slave Lake, Alberta

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