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.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

HIGHLIGHTS OF COUNTY COUNCIL MEETING , January 8, 2019

By Marianne Cole

Presentation by FCSS
 Andrea Vassallo, Manager of Clearwater Regional Family and Community Support Services outlined the numerous programs they coordinate for the benefit of residents of the town of Rocky, Clearwater County and the village of Caroline. Funding for these activities and the various community organizations they provide support for is provided on an 80-20% basis with 80% of the funding coming from the province. Three of the priorities they deal with are mental illness, poverty, and affordable housing. There are also several activities/programs for seniors, single newcomers to the area, and the youth. Councillor Laing, council’s representative on FCSS, noted that there are also more outreach programs for the outlying areas being recently organized as well.

Presentation by Wildrose School Division
 Several representatives from the Wildrose School Division came to give council an update on the plans for the Corridor Schools Capital Plan. Plans are to up-grade the Condor School to accommodate K to 6 classes. New information was provided that would see a replacement of the Leslieville School for Grades 7-12. The timeline was uncertain but hopes are to receive confirmation of the projects early this spring and have construction completed by September 2021. The funding “formula” provided for by the province was explained and it was noted that the province covers only the very basic funding for facilities based on per student populations. Extra gym size/features (room for bleaches, stage, etc.) must be covered by the local school division. Councillors brought up various concerns such as the Leslieville playground, skating rink, parking, water/sewer, and school track/field. It was also noted how the “extras” for the new school in Irma (Buffalo Trails School Division) was supported by both community funding and the Wainwright Municipality.

Presentation by Monica Ahlstrom and Kyle Wadden from Ahlstrom Air
Monica outlined the very distinct contributions Ahlstrom Air (stationed out of Nordegg) makes to the West Country and the significant concern over what may happen with the government’s proposal of establishing the Bighorn Wildland Park. Ahlstrom Air is a highly used “on demand” business and with the proposed new legislation, helicopters will be severely restricted in what they are allowed to do/where they may go. Permits will be required and this can take several days to get. An example was provided of the significantly greater cost of fighting the Nordegg area fire in 2013 where a permit was required and if immediate action could have taken place hundreds of thousands of dollars could have been saved. It was also noted that the government had announced in the Legislature that a supportive letter had been received from Clearwater County. Monica happened to be in the Legislature that day and heard that comment but, having seen the letter, knew it was an unbiased one asking for information. More discussion with Ahlstrom Air was going to take place in camera.

Presentation by Missing Link Internet
 Andrew Van Dirstein, Craig Bondy, and Phil Swanson with Missing Link Internet made a presentation which outlined the history of the organization and their efforts to provide improved broadband service. MLI is an amalgamation of Harewaves and Pure High Speed and all the partners have had significant experience with internet service provision. They mentioned their frustrations with trying to get both improved wireless service as well as fibre connectivity. Further discussion on how the county could become involved was going to take place in camera.

(Other items on the agenda included the Visitor Information Centre Agreement with the Town of Rocky and the Rocky Mtn. House Lagoon Summary Report, December 2018.)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

IN THE NEWS


Proposed Bighorn Wildland Park
As you may have heard, our NDP government is proposing major changes to our very important West Country. The area involved in this proposal stretches from Sundre to Drayton Valley along the eastern slopes of the Rockies. Included in the plan is the creation of one new Wildland Park, three new Provincial Parks, four new Provincial Recreation Areas, one new PLUZ (Public Land Use Zone) where there are currently six, and an amendment to the Kiska-Wilson PLUZ. These changes will severely impact all current users---hunters, trappers, grazing lease holders, equine users, guiders/outfitters, campers, snowmobilers, and off highway vehicle users. The changes have been fueled by input from such groups as the Alberta Hiking Association, Y2Y (Yellowstone to Yukon) and CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society). These organizations have largely urban oriented membership and directors, with the latter two (especially Y2Y) getting significant American input and funding.

“Public engagement” opportunity has been provided by the provincial government with public meetings held earlier in the year as well as currently. At these meetings significant opposition has been expressed but one is left to wonder if the voice of the people will actually be heard or if these “opportunities” are merely for show.
So, what can we do??? First of all you are encouraged to:

* A. Write to the following: Our MLA Jason Nixon; Shannon Phillips, Minister of Alberta Environment and Parks; and Todd Loewen, the Opposition Environment Critic. (You are welcome to phone Marianne for email addresses or mailing addresses for these people.

* B. Attend one of the following meetings if you can: Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, 6:00PM-9:00PM, McKenzie Conference Centre, 5745-45Ave. , Drayton Valley; Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, 6:00PM-9:00PM, German Canadian Club, 38167-RR 280, Red Deer; Monday, January 14, 2019, 4:00PM-9:00PM, Sundre Community Center, #3, 96-2 Ave., NW, Sundre; Tuesday, January 15, 2019, 4:00PM-9:00PM, Radisson Edmonton South, 4440 Gateway Boulevard, Edmonton.
(Note: The CCTA is looking into organizing a bus to go to the meeting in Edmonton so that our rural voice might be heard. Keep posted for further info.)

* C. Check out the information on the “Bighorn Wildland Park” website as well as information on Alberta Environment and Parks website



County Budget County
Council approved their 2019 budget at a special meeting on December 17th. According to a News Release on December 18th, “The 2019 operating budget includes revenues of $51, 275, 519 and expenses of $52, 020,916. The capital budget includes
revenues of $12, 994, 121 and expenses of $42, 411, 427.” Compared to the 2018 budget the predicted revenues are up 10.6% and expenses are up 28%. In order to create a balanced budget $15, 613, 701 will be transferred from reserves. Some of the main expenses include gravel road improvements/grading, bridge repairs, water & sewer upgrades, Clearwater Broadband, and the Condor Public Services Building. Tax rates will be established in the New Year.


CCTA AGM
The Clearwater County Taxpayers’ Association Annual General Meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at Arbutus Community Hall at 7:30PM. This will include election of officers and we certainly welcome/encourage new members to join us as we work for the common good of taxpayers in our county. At this meeting we will also be discussing what we can do as an organization with the Bighorn Wilderness issue.



ROSES
Special roses are being sent this month to all those involved with our county operations, right from those “out in the field”, to those in the offices, and to our councillors. So often they are at the receiving end of people’s frustrations and only hear the negative. While we may not always agree, I really do think we have a lot to be thankful for in our area so we are sending Happy New Year wishes along with bouquets of roses to all those involved in making this county a great place to call home.



COMING EVENTS
Tuesday, January 8, 2019, 7:30PM, Annual General Meeting, Arbutus Community Hall;

Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 7:30PM, Regular Monthly Meeting, Arbutus Community Hall