Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Letter to the Alberta Energy Regulator

Mrs. Marianne Cole, President,
Clearwater County Taxpayers’ Association
RR #1, Rocky Mtn. House, AB T4T 2A1
June 10, 2019



Mr. Gordon Lambert,
President and CEO Alberta Energy Regulator
Suite 1000, 250 – 5th St. SW
Calgary, AB T2P 0R4


Dear Mr. Lambert:
I am writing this letter on behalf of the Clearwater County Taxpayers’ Association and concerned residents of our area with regards to two issues:

· The operation and control of the Alberta Energy Regulator AND
· Fracking in the oil industry


1. Operation of the Alberta Energy Regulator   We understand the need for a regulatory body to oversee the operation of the oil industry in Alberta but we are very concerned about the make-up of the Board and Directors of the AER. With significant representation from former industry personnel we question if there is adequate, unbiased evaluation of industry operations or is it a matter of “the fox looking after the chicken coop.” We are concerned, that with the weighted membership of oil industry personnel, the interests of rural Albertans may not be adequately considered.

Certainly there is a need for qualified opinion but we also feel that there is a distinct need for representation from rural communities, the people that are potentially seriously affected by oil industry operations in their area and see “the other side of the story.” These people deserve to have input into matters affecting their quality of life and we suggest that there be an open application procedure for representatives on the AER Board with a required, equal number of representatives from various areas of Alberta.


2. Fracking  Again, we understand the benefit of fracking but we are also very concerned about its potentially negative impact from possible earthquakes and the significant use of fresh water. We definitely feel that the AER has to re-evaluate their licensing protocols and procedures as we feel there is not the degree of supervision/control necessary to ensure the well-being of all Albertans. As such we are proposing:

· The development of stringent protocol and procedures for compensation to residents who may have water wells or property damage due to fracking and/or earthquakes. The procedure guidelines must stipulate the responsibilities of the oil industry company involved with a definite
outline of compensation to be paid. The guidelines must be easily understood, readily available, and allow for efficient/sufficient compensation to the affected parties.


· The AER initiate extensive research on the alternatives to the use of fresh water for fracking and then work to enforcing those alternatives. Withdrawing billions of liters of fresh water from our resources for each fracking operation is not sustainable. Recently the Mayor of Calgary expressed concern over the potential inadequate water supply for his city.


Also there needs to be greater supervision by the AER over the approval of temporary diversion licensing. We are very concerned that there is not enough evaluation of the potential impact on the water source before licenses are approved. With the numerous applications that the AER receives on a daily basis we question how extensive an evaluation is done before approval is granted. As mentioned before, the withdrawal of billions and billions of liters of water from our environment is NOT sustainable. There are alternatives to fresh water use for fracking but there IS NOT an alternative to water for sustaining life. We sincerely encourage the AER to do research into, and then subsequently promote/require, alternatives to fresh water use.


In conclusion we reiterate our requests that you address concerns with the operation of the AER as well as the issues related to fracking. We trust that you might be equally concerned about the well-being of all Albertans and our environment, and therefore work towards addressing these concerns.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Yours truly,



Marianne Cole


Cc: Honorable Sonya Savage, Minister of Energy
Mrs. Sheila O’Brien, Chairman of the Board, Alberta Energy Regulator

Friday, June 7, 2019

IN THE NEWS


Potential Zero 0% Tax Increase
 At their regular council meeting on Tuesday, May 14th, Council first of all defeated a motion for a 1% tax hike on municipal taxes. There was significant discussion in light of the fact that, while it is still unknown, there is a potential for a large hike in the education tax, a matter out of Council’s control. Notable comments reported in the May 22nd Mountaineer included Councillor Lougheed’s where he said, “We don’t have control over the province’s numbers but we can cushion the blow.” On a similar note Councillor Laird said, “We have the Tax Stabilization fund. I consider that to be a rainy day fund and I would say this is the rainy day. I support zero per cent at this point after much thought.” Following defeat of the 1% tax hike motion, Councillor Swanson made a motion for a 0% tax increase which passed first reading. We await the results of 2nd and 3rd reading.

Concerns with truck inspections
A phone call was recently received regarding the CPO’s safety inspections on local heavy industry trucks. According to the caller, following word that there would be impending safety checks by the County’s CPO’s, the local operator decided to have his trucks all safety inspected. This was done during break-up when business was slower to ensure that all would be in order and to save future loss of driver/operating time when business ramped up. Subsequently, however, at a meeting with local operators, it was noted by the CPO’s that they would not be honoring other safety inspections but would still do their own. This is a source of frustration for local operators as it means extra time could be lost when their trucks are held up unnecessarily for time consuming inspections when they have proven, valid safety stickers---an additional cost they have already incurred.

Ground breaking activities visible
Ground work for the new Public Works/Fire Hall building at Condor has started and is visible north of Highway 11. It will be exciting to watch the progress as it proceeds.

Friends of the Corridor Schools
The dedicated group of young moms and community members continues to meet and discuss fund raising for the potential new school/improvements at Leslieville and Condor. Plans for a major kick off on June 18th have been postponed until the fall when more definite plans/announcements will, hopefully, be coming from the province. Please check out their website at friendsofthecorridorschools@gmail.com.
 

ROSES
A very special bouquet of roses goes out this month to each one of our councillors for their consideration of the current local economic situation in proposing a 0% municipal tax increase. Your insightful discussion, comments, and decision are, I’m sure, welcomed and appreciated by everyone.

Coming Events: June 11, 2019, 7:30PM Arbutus Community Hall, Regular monthly meeting September 17, 2019, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall, Regular monthly meeting


Coming Events:
 June 11, 2019, 7:30PM Arbutus Community Hall, Regular monthly meeting 
               
 September 17, 2019, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall, Regular monthly meeting

Friday, May 3, 2019

IN THE NEWS


Taxes, taxes, taxes
At their April 23rd council meeting Clearwater County Council discussed the up-coming tax rate bylaw at length. The following are noted highlights of information with quotes from the agenda package:

· “This bylaw is prepared using assessment from the 2018 year.” The assessed value of the property in question is then multiplied by the tax rate that the council sets to give you the amount of municipal taxes you pay.

· The “kicker” this year is the school requisition, a separate tax category that is part of your overall tax bill. Due to the interference of the recent election, the county has experienced “a delay in presenting the prepared tax rate bylaw to Council for the 2019 year, due to the province not delivering a statement of intent for the provincial school requisition for 2019.”

· “Staff has gone ahead and calculated the school requisition estimate based on the 2017 equalized assessment numbers and kept the rate steady from the 2018 requisition.” (Note: The province uses the last 2 years of information to establish their tax requisition.)

· “Clearwater County’s equalized assessment has increased significantly, especially in the non-residential category, and as such there will be an increase in the provincial school requisition.
Even a 0 percent increase in the municipal portion will translate into an increase in the dollars paid by the ratepayer for 2019. Using the estimated numbers, the residential &farm ratepayers are seeing a 5.41% increase in the school requisition rate while the non-residential ratepayers are seeing a 13.8$ increase in their school requisition rate. This equates to $13.83 per $100,000 of residential assessment and $47.72 per $100,000 of non-residential assessment for school requisitions alone.”

· “For the municipal portion of the tax bill, because of a decrease in taxable assessment in Clearwater County, a 0% increase in the municipal tax rate would leave the County in a deficit position of $434, 331. A 1% overall tax rate increase would leave the County in a surplus position of $35, 826.
The question arises---Should an increase in municipal taxes even be considered when the taxpayers will already be facing an “unbargainable” increase in education taxes???

County Surplus
 A list of changes to the accumulated surpluses was presented to council as well. Some of the extra monies resulted from projects that were not completed in 2018 but will be in 2019. Others came as a result of cost savings on projects and some projects being deferred.

 Consequently, as of December 31, 2018, there is an Unrestricted Surplus of $1, 115, 104 and a Total Restricted Surplus of
$95, 284, 283. “Unrestricted” means for unspecified use while “restricted” is designated for specific categories. Notable restricted surplus categories include:

· **** Tax Rate Stabilization---- $12, 000,000. (Taking out the potential $434, 331 deficit to be incurred by a 0% increase in a tax rate for this year would still leave a significant balance in this category.)
· Broadband--- $8,900,000
· Fire (Capital)--- $7, 058,411
· Public works (Capital)--- $6, 502, 995
· Public works (paving, gravel, resource roads combined) $23, 702, 599
· Sewer $8, 821, 055
· Bridge deficit $8, 413, 577

These are just the most notable categories often commented on by county residents. There is still about $20,000,000 in the restricted surplus for numerous other categories.

RANT
With this much money in SURPLUS (the “rainy day fund”), is there any need for an increase in municipal taxes??? It is interesting to note that from December 2017 to December 2018 there was an increase in the total restricted surplus of $13, 603, 918 or 16.66%. How many businesses/taxpayers in Clearwater County saw an increase of 16% in their surpluses (if they even had one) last year???

We’ve been contributing and contributing for years to create these surpluses “in case of tough times”. Now if we take out $434,331 from the tax rate stabilization surplus a balance of $11, 565, 669 will be left. This would allow for other withdrawals of $500,000 for another 23 years. I think we’ll be OK with a O% tax rate increase on municipal taxes this year.

Coming Events:
Tuesday, May 21, 2019, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall, Regular monthly meeting 
Tuesday, June 18, 2019, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall, Regular monthly meeting.

Friday, April 26, 2019

COUNTY COUNCIL HIGHLIGHTS, APRIL 23, 2019


By Marianne Cole

Presentation by Mountain Rose Women's Shelter

Cindy Easton presented information with regards to their recent activities/ideas for dealing with homelessness in the county/Rocky Mtn. House area. She noted that the new Women’s Shelter (west of A &W) will hopefully be completed by August. This facility will only accommodate women and children so there is a need for places for men. Further renos are being considered for the Post House which may help cover that issue. Cindy was expressing the need for community involvement and they would like representation form Clearwater County Council on their Community Working Group on Homelessness. There was great discussion by Council on this issue and Council will consider their request for representation at their fall organizational meeting.

North Saskatchewan River Park Update
Roger Smolnicky, Recreation Director from the town, gave Council an up-date on the improvements geared for the NSRP. A grant of $375, 484 has been received and work will begin soon with hopes of having a covered grandstand in time for the pro chuckwagon races in August. Other improvements included power service, portable bleachers, fencing, and infield box upgrades.

Grant Funding for Community Halls Policy
 Council approved a policy outlining the county’s method of approving grants for community halls. Annual allocations will be based on hall capacity, with $2500 allowed for halls with capacity of less than 250 and $5000 for larger halls.

Tax Rate Discussion
Significant discussion took place on proposed tax rates for 2019. It was pointed out that the actual tax dollars to be paid are based on the property assessment value from the previous year along with the tax rate to be established for the current year. It was also noted that added to the county’s portion is the province’s school requisition. The province uses the previous two years’ assessments in determining their rates.

 With this in mind, estimates show that for residential and farm ratepayers there may be a 5.41% increase in school requisition while non-residential (business) may see a 13.8% increase. This would equate to $13.83 per $100,000 assessment for residences and $47.72 per $100,000 for businesses. That is without any increase in the municipal portion.

A 0% increase in municipal taxes would leave the County in a deficit of $434,331 for this year while a 1% increase would give the County a $35, 826 surplus.

****** It is important to note that the County currently has a restricted surplus of $95, 284, 283 (up $13, 603, 918 from 2017) and an unrestricted surplus of $1, 115, 104. The restricted surplus is divided into various categories including roads, bridges, facilities, broadband, etc. A final decision on the 2019 tax rate will be made in May.

Audited Financial Statements.
 The County’s auditors presented the audited financial statement for 2018 and indicated that the county is in a favorable position financially. Revenue in 2018 ( $57, 964, 957) increased 13.14% over 2017 ($51, 184, 839) while expenses in 2018 ($51, 085, 449) increased 3.59% over 2017 ($49, 317, 003). The County Council and Administration should be commended for their fiscally responsible operation.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

IN THE NEWS

Community Hall Funding Policy
 At their meeting on March 26th, County Council reviewed their policy for funding community halls. Currently there are 20 halls in the county with varying degrees of use and sustainability. The county has previously budgeted $35,000 annually to be available for funding only capital projects by community halls on a first come, first served basis. The maximum that a hall could apply for was $15,000 and this would be allocated on a 50-50 cost share basis. Following significant discussion council “directed Administration to draft a policy for Council’s consideration at a future meeting, reflective of split, flat rate funding policy for community halls, for both operating and capital costs, with annual amounts of $5,000 for halls with higher usage and $2500 for halls with lower usage, for a three year period.” (Quoted from County Meeting Highlights)

Town Sewage Lagoon Update
The town’s Director of Engineering and Operations attended the March 26th council meeting to provide an update on the status of the town’s sewage lagoon. For some time there have been issues with failed lethality testing of effluent going from the lagoon into the North Saskatchewan River, and full disclosure of this information had not been given to county council. The county was, however, involved in the usage of the lagoon as well as its funding.
At Tuesday’s meeting it was mentioned that there are additional problems with sludge build-up and this will require planned stages of clean up. In his report the Director apologized for the earlier lack of communication from the town and presented proposed improvements to address the de-sludging as well as other up-grades to the aerated lagoon.
We thank our current County Council for their diligence in requesting up to date information so that issues that we are involved with, and required to help fund, can be addressed appropriately in a timely manner.

Clearwater County Crime Watch
 The CCCW annual meeting was held on Thursday, March 21st at the Leslieville Community Hall. In his report President Dan Lyons noted:
· A significant increase in membership (now over 200)
· The positive impact of the Crime Reduction Units that focus on/target crime hot spots with special increased patrols
· Problems with the current fan out system and efforts to improve it
· The rural crime epidemic province wide, due in large part to the influence of drug activity.
RCMP Liason Harold Smits added his comments on the Crime Reduction Units as well, and also mentioned that with the warmer weather there will likely be an increase in criminal activity. We are all encouraged to be on the look out for, and report, any suspicious activity.
We certainly thank all the long serving members of the CCCW and wish the in-coming directors the very best as they diligently work to address crime in our area.


West Central Stakeholders Information Night 
 The WCS is holding a public information night on Thursday, April 11 at the Leslieville Community Hall. Doors open at 6:00PM and at 7:00PM there will be a presentation by Cody Battershill from Canada Action speaking on “Separating Facts from Friction”. His presentation will address the story behind the anti-industry strategies, supporting our resource industry and our community, and being a credible source for information. There will also be networking opportunities and information booths, refreshments, and door prizes. It should be a very interesting evening.

Meeting Date Change 
 Following concerns raised at our last CCTA meeting a motion was passed that our monthly meetings be changed from the 2nd Tuesday of the month to the third Tuesday. Consequently the next meeting will be April 16th… an interesting date as it’s also election day. There could be real opportunity for great discussion on numerous topics!!!

In the Wind
 April is usually the month when the County’s audited financial statements are presented and we have the opportunity to see exactly how our tax dollars were spent, along with the income that came in, during the previous year. This, then, sets the stage for determining what our taxes will be for the year. We encourage everyone to check the county’s website, “Meeting Minutes and Agendas”, for when these important items will be presented. Then come to the council meeting to hear first hand how your hard earned dollars have been used.


SMILES FOR THE MONTH:
 Why couldn’t the rabbit fly home for Easter?? He didn’t have the hare fare. What do you get when you pour hot water down a rabbit hole?? A Hot Cross bunny!!


UP-COMING EVENTS:
 Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall, Regular meeting 

 Tuesday, May 21, 2019, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall, Regular meeting.

Friday, March 8, 2019

IN THE NEWS


Partnership with Wild Rose School Division
At their February 26th council meeting County Council “passed a resolution indicating its support for the Leslieville School enhancement projects, requesting that the community indicate its priorities for capital upgrades, and that the County will match community fundraising for projects that will increase the functionality of the potential new Leslieville School.” (Quoted from County Council Meeting highlights.)

Subsequent to that Councillors Laird, Laing, Hoven, Lougheed and Swanson, along with CAO Rick Emmons, attended a meeting of the Friends of the Corridor Schools” in Condor on February 27th. It was great to see the support and enthusiasm for the proposed changes to Condor and the building of a new high school at Leslieville.

The Friends of the Corridor Schools is a newly formed board of enthusiastic parents, staff, and community members who are focused on raising additional $$$ to enhance the provincial funding allotted for the changes. All school funding follows specific (somewhat minimal) formulae based on student population. Should the community want any additional features (i.e. larger gym with a stage), these items must be covered by fund raising. Consequently the committee is working on developing plans and a budget for the enhancements that the community would like.

Community input is certainly welcome for both project plans and fund raising ideas. Please contact either Leslieville or Condor schools or Wildrose School Division for further information.

Economic Development Strategy 
For the last year the County has been working diligently to gather information and develop a strategy that would promote economic development in the area. Surveys have been conducted, a working group of local business owners have been involved, and a consultant was hired to assess the county’s “readiness” for attracting business/encouraging economic growth. Throughout these efforts the following 4 strategic areas of focus, with accompanying possible plans of action, were developed: (Note: For a more complete set of plans of action check out the agenda package for the February 26th council meeting on the County’s website.)

* Prepare for business. Action: Have suitable land available, work to improve broadband service, create an Economic Development website, encourage tourism, and assess the available skilled labor force.

* Prepare for people growth. Action: Assess the opportunities for residential needs, the area’s cost of living, current population skill sets, and opportunities for education/skill development.

* Promote opportunities. Action: Survey businesses to identify needed services.

* Foster a Culture of Growth. Action: Do research and engage the community in order to develop a plan that would boost the area’s reputation as a great place to live, invest, and do business.


Clearwater County Regional Wastewater System Briefing
This issue was discussed at a special Strategic Planning meeting on February 25th. History indicates that in October 2013 Clearwater County entered into a 10 year agreement with the town that would allow county residents and businesses to dump their septage into the town’s lagoon in return for the county’s $2.1 million contribution to lagoon upgrades.

Approximately 3 years ago it came to light that there were issues with lethality tests on effluent flowing from the lagoon into the North Saskatchewan River. Since then the town has been researching options to correct that problem.

In December 2018 MPE Engineering submitted a "Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility Upgrade Feasibility Study” to the town. This study, however gave no consideration to the County’s four hamlets (Condor, Withrow, Leslieville, and Alhambra); BUT, because the county uses the town’s lagoon at a rate of @20% of volume, it would be expected to contribute equivalent money to the upgrades (@ $1.4 million).

The county will now be evaluating all past and current (2018) studies as they assess the most efficient and financially beneficial actions to be taken. Complete information can be found on the County’s website under “meetings and Agendas”, Strategic Planning Committee, February 25, 2019.


Smiles for St. Patrick’s Day:
Why don’t you borrow $$$ from a leprechaun? Because they’re always a little short. 

How can you tell if an Irishman is having a good time? He’s Dublin over with laughter.

What is out on the lawn or deck all summer and is Irish? Paddy O’Furniture. 

Why can’t you iron a four leaf clover? Because you shouldn’t press your luck. 


Up-Coming Meetings:
Tuesday, March 12, 2019, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall 

Tuesday, April 9, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall

Friday, February 1, 2019

IN THE NEWS


Bighorn Wildland Park 
The controversy and questions continue. A lengthy discussion took place at our January 8th CCTA meeting, following which a motion was made to write a letter to our County Council asking them to send a letter of opposition on the government’s proposal to Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips. On January 9th we learned that Council had indeed passed a motion at their January 8th meeting requesting administration to draft such a letter. No need for our request.

On January 23rd we learned that the town and county councils met with the Deputy Minister on January 21st to discuss the Bighorn issue. The very next day, January 22nd our County Council made a motion to defer sending the letter of opposition to the Minister. Consequently, we have now sent a letter requesting Council to review that decision and proceed with sending their earlier letter of opposition.

The concerns we listed in our letter focussed on the ineffective phone in meetings, questionable validity of the online survey, mistrust of government information, lack of value/credibility attached to stakeholder input, and the potential very NEGATIVE ECONOMIC IMPACT for our area.

We also suggested that the problem is not with the use of the area but with the lack of patrols and enforcement, citing an earlier reduction of 12 Fish and Wildlife Officers in this affected area to 3. We suggested that conservation and protection of the West Country could be upheld with the reinstatement of adequate/appropriate staffing.

It has also come to our attention (on January 30th) that the cancelled information sessions have been re-scheduled according to an e-mail sent out to MLA’s by the Minister on January 29th. The meetings will be held February 1 in Drayton Valley, February 2 in Edmonton, February 3 in Red Deer, and February 4 in Sundre. This late notice/lack of publicity makes one wonder if it is a deliberate attempt to curtail attendance.

Condor Fire Hall 
The first concrete step in the building of the new Fire Hall/Public Works facility will take place at a Public Hearing in Council Chambers on Tuesday, February 12 at 9:30AM. This hearing is to re-designate +/- 8.0 acres of land from Agricultural District to Institutional District. This land is located on the south end of Condor, on the east side of the road, about ½ mile north of Hwy. 11. We look forward to watching the progress of further developments.

Meeting with MLA Jason Nixon
We have contacted his office with the possibility of having Mr. Nixon speak at one of our up-coming meetings. It was suggested that we wait until after more concrete information is available on current issues such as the Bighorn and the election. We will keep you posted.

Comments/Concerns
We welcome any comments or concerns related to county issues as we work to support taxpayers of Clearwater County. We encourage you to bring them to our meetings or contact anyone of our directors with your concerns.


ROSES
This month we are sending large bouquets of roses to all the SENIORS in Clearwater County. So often their contributions are overlooked and we want to now express our deepest appreciation for their past input, efforts, and support in the development and maintenance of our county. We are all benefactors and thank them most sincerely for their past…and continuing… contributions to the area we enjoy.


Valentine Riddles:
1. Why do skunks love Valentine’s Day??? Because they are scent-imental creatures.
2. What did the flame say to his buddies after he fell in love??? I found the perfect match.
3. What do farmers give their wives on Valentine’s Day??? Hogs and kisses.


Up-coming Meetings:
Tuesday, February 12, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall; Meeting cancelled due to weather

Tuesday, March 12, 7:30PM, Arbutus Community Hall




NOTE: PLEASE CHANGE THE LIST OF DIRECTORS AS FOLLOWS: DELETE: TRISH BINGHAM, AND KEN QUALLY. ADD: HELGE NOME AND SHARON RUBELING.