Sept 23, 2003 meeting. The owner of a couple of businesses in Smith spoke to council about his challenges in hiring foreign workers. He needs to do it, said Khadim Hussein, because there aren’t enough local people to fill the positions. But when he applied for approval through the Town of Slave Lake’s Rural Renewal Stream program, he was told there was a fee of “$10,000 they are asking.”
Hussein was asking for the M.D. to intervene on his behalf. He bolstered his case by saying he’d like to keep his businesses going in Smith, and even “start another business too – if I can get staff.”
Councillors seemed quite baffled by the news.
“This is news to us,” said Councillor Brad Pearson. “Maybe we can go on our own.”
“I don’t understand where the $10,000 is coming from,” said Councillor Lana Spencer.
Where it’s coming from is a town estimate of how much time and effort is required to operate the Rural Renewal Stream program on behalf of employers and foreign workers seeking to make use of its services. Town administration advised council earlier this year it figured it could handle the extra workload (from neighbouring municipalities), for a fee. The number proposed was $10,000, and council approved it.
“Why this program, as opposed to all the others?” asked Councillor Darren Fulmore.
Jason Swanson, who runs the program for the Town of Slave Lake, will present to M.D. council at its Oct. 11 meeting and perhaps answer that as well as other questions.
Visiting council were the commanding officers of the Slave Lake and Westlock RCMP detachments.
Sgt. Casey Bruyns of the Slave Lake RCMP went first. As usual, he got asked a lot of questions. They ran the gamut, from what’s being done about break-ins at Broken Paddle (Nancy Sand) to what the RCMP view is on vigilante justice (Brad Pearson).
The Broken Paddle question was in response to Bruyns’ news that property crimes were down 40 per cent in the M.D. If they are recent incidents, he said, they probably aren’t in the stats yet.
As for Pearson’s vigilante justice question, Bruyns said a better idea is to get a good description and call the police.
Vigilante incidents aren’t common, he said. He mentioned a couple – one involving a shovel and the other a pipe.
Other news: the Slave Lake plainclothes unit is now fully staffed, with the recent arrival of a new constable. The plan is focus on “prolific offenders,” Bruyns said.
Bruyns was asked if the M.D. contribution to the cost of policing (a relatively new thing, instituted by the current provincial government) has resulted in any increase in resources at the detachment level. Not that I’ve seen, said Bruyns.
Councillor Norm Seatter asked if the RCMP could provide accident statistics for the first 33 kilometres of Hwy. 88. Can do, said Bruyns.
The brand new detachment commander for the Westlock RCMP introduced himself and did a slide show for council. Staff Sgt. Jeff Sehn has been in the RCMP since 2005 and has held various posts around Alberta. He took over Westlock on Sept. 1.
One highlight of Sehn’s time in the Ponoka traffic unit was dealing with “an 85-car pile-up on Hwy. 2,” he said.
Speaking of RCMP traffic, the unit based in Westlock since 2011 is slated to return to Slave Lake someday – or at least part of it, Sehn told council.
Sehn spoke at some length about mental health calls – the protocols and so on, prompted by questions from councillors.
There is a regional RCMP ‘health team’ based in Athabasca that can be called on, he said. It consists of an officer and a nurse – except for the past year the nurse position has been vacant.
The Westlock RCMP service area extends into the southern end of the M.D. of Lesser Slave River.
Lower limit on Muskeg Rd. bridge
An August inspection of several M.D. bridges revealed some problems with the Muskeg Creek bridge, which is on Muskeg Road. It found “severe deterioration in four of the wood pilings.”
The recommendation from the inspector was to immediately put a five-tonne limit on the bridge. This has been done, council was told.
The affect on traffic is considered “minimal,” since there’s already a 50 per cent road ban in the summer months. The plan is to keep the 50 per cent ban in place right through the winter, “until a repair strategy can be determined.”
Muskeg Road is the name of the portion of the Old Smith Highway between Tollenaar Bridge and Hwy. 88.
Strategic plan for utilities deals with sewer hook-ups, maintenance issues
Council was asked to approve a plan for dealing with “operational bottlenecks and inefficiencies” in the delivery of water and sewer services. The plan is the result of quite a bit of discussion with council and work by the department over the past few months.
Councillor Pearson asked for clarification on the policy requiring people to hook up to M.D. sewer system, where it exists. The only exceptions, he heard, are in cases where the property owners can prove their system meets or exceeds the M.D.’ standards. The number of these is very small.
There are 22 non-compliant cases in the Southshore area, and the M.D. has been pushing to get them online.
“We’re not fooling around,” said Reeve Murray Kerik.
“Most people are working with us,” said department director Donna Cross.
When it comes to repairing or replacing residents’ sewage grinder pumps, the strategic plan recommends the M.D. stop that service. It’ll be up to property owners to find contractors to do it.
“It’s part of home ownership,” said councillor Seatter.
Council approved the strategic plan as proposed.
Water rates going up as M.D. moves closer to cost-recovery
The M.D. has come up with a ‘true’ cost of producing and providing potable water to residents. It took the expertise of a firm called Nicholls Applied Management, which studied the process. The resulting figures even take into account “not so visible” factors that contribute to the cost, such as servicing debt, funding reserves and administrative time.
The question before council was how far towards actual cost recovery the M.D. should be going on its rates. Various scenarios were suggested, and much discussion ensued.
One thing that will improve the picture is cutting operational costs. CAO Barry Kolenosky said there are ways to reduce these, and they are being done.
“We’re working both sides of the equation,” he said.
“There are many ways to get there,” observed Councillor Pearson. “But we have to agree on the subsidy level.”
Apparently the subsidy at the moment is about 87 per cent. Council agreed that getting it down to 50 per cent was a reasonable goal. The plan is to do it over three years, starting on Jan. 1 of 2024.
Auctioning off assets
The M.D. has a growing collection of “obsolete, excess or outdated” pieces of equipment. It wants to get rid of them and when they are worth over $5,000, council has to approve it. Hence the list of 18 items presented for disposal approval.
The equipment ranges from tractors to mowers to trucks and trailers. Reserve bid amounts range from $10,000 (for a Dodge pickup) to $200,000 (for a grader).
The recommendation was to get them listed with one of the auction houses, for online sale.
One item – a boat and trailer and outboard motor – caught Pearson’s attention.
“Do we plan to replace it?” he asked.
The answer was no. It’s been around a long time, said Shari Spencer, who was making the report. It hardly ever gets used.
“What did we use it for?” asked Councillor Melzer.
“Beaver control,” suggested Councillor Nancy Sand.
Council heard there is another list of assets for disposal as well, consisting of items worth less than $5,000.
Smith bridge update; funding application being prepared
Not much was new here. The report went over the highlights of the past year or so. There was lots of data collection and surveying over the summer, but “nothing unexpected came up,” Spencer reported.
The plan is to submit an application for STIP funding for bridge replacement in November. If successful, the new bridge could be in service by late 2026.
In the meantime… have divers looked at the reinforcing job done last winter on the threatened concrete pier?
“Yes,” said Kolenoskly. “They said if it hadn’t been done, the bridge would likely not be there.”
Councillor Fulmore noted that the engineering firm’s report on the bridge replacement project presents scenarios for two types of bridges – one double-lane and one single-lane. He’d like that single-lane idea to be dropped.
Council accepted the report as information.
One item in a report for council on an impressively long list of M.D. projects was the Smith outdoor ice rink. Work continues, with concrete piles recently installed for the boards system. One glitch, however, is that the glass that was to go on top of the boards isn’t suitable for outdoors.
CAO Kolenosky said it was “never intended for an outdoor rink,” so another plan is being worked up, involving netting. The glass will be saved.
What do we need netting for, asked Melzer.
Standard protocol, said Kolenosky. Liability.
Overall, though, Kolenosky said he’s pleased with how the project is coming along.
“It’s way under budget,” he said.
The new camping stalls by the lake at Wagner are mostly completed, council heard, apart from the installation of fire pits. That was apparently being done on that very day.
“How much?” asked Councillor Spencer.
“Four hundred bucks apiece,” said Kolenosky.
“Are they cemented in?” asked Pearson.
“They will be,” said Kolenosky.
FCSS grant money
Sandra Rendle, the M.D.’s Community Services Coordinator, reported that there are $25,000 left in the FCSS grants account, with one ‘intake’ left for community groups to apply for grants.
Councillor Spencer had an idea for spending the money if there aren’t sufficient applications (it has to go back to the government if it isn’t spent):
She said she’d like to see the money spent somehow promoting volunteerism.
Later in the meeting, Councillor Seatter proposed the idea of holding an appreciation dinner or barbecue for the people who helped out with the wildfire/evacuation incident in the Smith area back in the spring.
“A lot of people were involved,” he said.
Seatter made a motion to that effect, which was carried.
Kendra Kozdroski’s report on the M.D.’s agricultural services had statistics on weed inspections, notices and such. There have been 600 of the former and only one of the latter.
Club root of canola inspections have been done, and samples submitted for analysis.
Roadside mowing has been going full-steam. Twine-collection has been happening at the waste transfer sites; when there’s enough of it, a call to a recycling agency will result in it being taken care of.
The province has somebody spot-spraying in provincial highway ditches, Kozdroski said.
Kozdroski’s last piece of news was about the Fall Social, which takes place in Flatbush on Nov. 4. There’ll be “a good Ukrainian meal,” she said. “Bring someone!”
Transportation and facilities
Transportation and facilities manager Cody Borris reported on various projects having to do with roads and M.D. facility repairs and upgrades. One was the new access ramp at the Smith Library, which he said “finally passed inspection.”
Another was the completion of the second access/egress at Marten Beach.
Lots of good comments on that project, said Councillor Seatter.
Kolenosky pitched in at this point to tell council that because of the good relationship between the transportation department and some of the projects, “we’ve saved money.” He didn’t offer details.
Planning and development
Department director Ann Holden informed council 43 development permits have been issued in 2023 – two of them in September.
Councillors Spencer and Seatter, who sit on the M.D.’s Municipal Planning Commission, advised Holden she’d be hearing from the MPC about some tweaks the MPC thinks the new M.D. Land-Use Bylaw needs. One thing has to do with the rules on setbacks; in some hamlets, they just don’t work, Spencer said.
Another example is the requirement that garages can’t be between the road and the house. That doesn’t work on lake lots, Seatter said.
“It’s a good document,” he added. “It just needs some tweaking.”
The last item in Holden’s report was some information she’d gotten at a conference. Housing affordability is becoming a big issue; the gap between people’s budgets and the cost of housing is getting bigger. One result is more homelessness, which conference attendees heard is “a really big problem,” and just as big, proportionally, in Slave Lake as in Edmonton.
by Joe McWilliams