Friday, September 18, 2020

 

Marianne Cole, President Clearwater County Taxpayers’ Association 

 RR #1 Rocky Mtn. House, AB T4T 2A1 mcmajic@telus.net September 15, 2020

Clearwater County Council Box 550 Rocky Mtn. House, AB T4T 1A4 

Dear Councillors:

Following a motion passed at our Clearwater County Taxpayers’ Association meeting last night, Monday, September 14, 2020, I am writing this letter to ask that the Clearwater County Council immediately stop the current review process on the Municipal Development Plan and re-start with open public meetings.

Significant discussion took place and concerns focussed on the following issues:

Public meetings are much more productive and necessary in order for all parties involved (taxpayers, Councillors, County staff, and consultants) to hear/validate the actual concerns, questions, and support/lack of regarding the current policies as well as those proposed.

The short timing of the process does not allow for adequate public engagement. It was noted that the County of Wetaskiwin took 2 years for their MDP review process and allowed for 3 open public meetings strategically held throughout the course of action.

There was real concern for the perceived lack of protection for agricultural land, farming operations, and the rural way of life.

The need for increased sub-division opportunities was questioned when several unused locations are currently available.

The increased cost for services, road maintenance, and rural/”urban” type conflicts with increased subdivisions could off-set any potential benefit from supposed residential tax revenue.

While the following were not mentioned during the meeting they have subsequently been brought to my attention:

Relying so strongly on written submissions for public engagement really impedes the opportunity for ALL taxpayer input. First of all it is VERY TIME CONSUMING, not only to read/gather the information, but then to write a response and submit it. All this at a time when people, especially the farming community, are very busy with haying and harvesting.

Written submissions provide lesser opportunity for open discussion and questions to be addressed.

There are a significant number of taxpayers (predominantly the older generation, but also those with poor internet connection) whose opportunity for gathering information and responding with comments is seriously limited without open public meetings.

Because of all the above concerns I reiterate our request to stop any further action on the MDP review until open public meetings are held. This would allow the most beneficial opportunity for all taxpayers to have adequate input into a document that impacts everyone.

In conclusion, we ask that this letter be added to the up-coming agenda for September 22, 2020 and that the request for public meetings be openly discussed by Council at that time.

We sincerely trust that the voice of the people will be of utmost importance and that Council will respond favorably to our request.

We thank you for your consideration on this matter and look forward to your reply.

Yours truly,

Marianne Cole

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

IN THE NEWS

 

By Marianne Cole

CCTA Back at Work 

With things hopefully easing up and/or people adjusting to special safety measures, the CCTA Board has made a decision to resume our monthly meetings. Our first meeting will be held on Monday, September 14, 2020 at 7:30PM at the Arbutus Hall. Social distancing will be in effect and we welcome everyone back to discuss issues facing our County.

Proposed Tax Revisions  

Of greatest concern is the recently suggested reassessment of the taxation model for taxes to be paid by oil/gas companies to rural municipalities on pipelines, oil/gas leases, and various associated installations. Clearwater County could stand to lose between $300M and $1.6B in revenue depending on the format chosen by the UCP government. In return, residents here could face an increase of between 50% and 257% in residential taxes… AND/OR lose significant services.

The proposed changes would present a HUGE problem for Clearwater County along with all other rural municipalities in Alberta. Letters of concern have been sent to our MLA, Premier, Finance Minister, Opposition Leader, and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). A reply has only been received from our MLA Jason Nixon.

The initiative for this change came from Alberta’s “Top 5” oil/gas industry companies with support from CAPP. Some interesting (???) information on these companies is included here.

2018 SALARY/COMPENSATION PAID TO TOP 5 OIL/GAS COMPANIES IN ALBERTA (The Narwhal, Sharon Riley, June 12, 2019)

1. Suncor Steve Williams (now retired) Salary: $1.466 Million; Total compensation: $14.5M

2. Cenovus Alexander Pourbaix Salary: $1M; Total compensation: $6.6M

3. CNRL Norm Edwards Salary: $1M; Total compensation: $10.6M

4. Imperial Oil Richard Kruger (An American citizen) Salary: $1.2M; Total Compensation: $7.8M

5. Husky Robert J. Peabody Salary: $1.5M; Total Compensation: $7.9M

2019 CEO TOTAL COMPENSATION (The Calgary Herald, Amanda Stephensen, June 26, 2020)

1. Suncor Mark Little $11.72M

2. Cenovus Alexander Pourbaix $9.06M (increase of 38% over 2018)

3. CNRL Tim S. McKay $8.17M

4. Imperial Oil Richard Kruger $8.09M

5. Husky Oil (Collective compensation for top 5 executives) Just over $15M

Foreign ownership figures from Straight.com/finance report: The big five oil and gas producers are all majority foreign owned:

NON CANADIAN SHARES: Husky - 97% Imperial - 94% Cenovus - 72% Suncor - 66% CNRL - 55% So, NO, the TOP 5 are NOT CANADIAN OWNED

We recognize that the oil/gas industry is facing difficult times but so is everyone else. “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” is not a beneficial solution. There is absolutely not guarantee that the financial benefits these companies might enjoy with the proposed changes will, in turn, benefit rural Albertans. In fact with 69 rural municipalities, at an average of 10,000 residents each, 690,000 Albertans could be negatively affected for the benefit of a few. We sincerely hope that these suggested tax changes DO NOT come into effect. 

 Review of the MDP  

The County just sent out a special newsletter with information about the review of the Municipal Development Plan. This is a very important document that governs the use of land in Clearwater County and development guidelines. It is absolutely crucial that people have a say in the rules that will control land use in our county. We encourage everyone to read the newsletter very carefully and voice their opinion on this matter. At this stage the county is taking opinions that they will include in developing the document. Then there will be public meetings to evaluate the guidelines before the final draft is completed. We really need to have our voices heard.

County Happenings  

Site work is progressing at the new Leslieville Fire Hall/Public Works location. Facility completion is hoped for by late fall 2020. Work is also progressing on the installation of services in the proposed “Commercial Core” In Nordegg. This development is to the south, up the hill from the Visitors’ Center and in the area of the church and old CIBC bank. 

September Smiles:

1. What will happen if you continue “stress eating” as a result of Covid19?? The buttons on your shirt will start social distancing from each other.

2. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he was trying to social distance.

Coming events: 

Monday, September 14, 2020, 7:30PM, Arbutus Hall, Regular Meeting

October meeting date to be determined at September meeting as the regularly scheduled meeting would fall on Thanksgiving Monday.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Extravagant 6,000 sq. ft. Staff Space Approved

By Marianne Cole


With a motion that passed 5 – 2 at their June 9th meeting, Clearwater County Council approved plans for 6,000 sq. ft. of staff space for the proposed new fire hall in Leslieville. Voting for the motion, moved by Councillor Duncan, were Councillors Duncan, Laird, Lougheed, Swanson, and Reeve Hoven. Voting in opposition were Councillors Vandermeer and Laing.

 

The over-sized two story staff space includes meeting rooms, training room, laundry facilities, over-night accommodation, washrooms, showers, 2 saunas, 2 kitchens, and storage space. The “rationale” used to justify the build included the need to support the 11 volunteer fire fighters, preparation for a potential large emergency, and the provision of training space for a third party supposedly interested in operating a training facility. These very same excuses were used to justify the exact same amount of space contained in the recently built Condor Public Services building completed in the fall of 2019. Upon completion of the Leslieville facility there would be 12,000 sq. ft. of staff space within 11 km. of each other.

 

Aside from the unnecessary cost of building the facility there are concerns about the future cost of maintenance, regular cleaning, utility costs, and the absolute lack of concrete information about the phantom training provider. For over a year now it has been mentioned by county staff that a third party is interesting in developing a training operation but there has NEVER been any name mentioned, plans given about their intentions, or facts provided of potential income to be realized from the extra space built, now in two places, to accommodate these ideas. It is noteworthy to mention that at Council’s January Strategic Planning Meeting Councillor Swanson made a motion that Council postpone RFP’s until, among other things, the receipt of a report on the estimated training revenues. No information has been received to date but the motion to proceed with RFP’s was still passed yesterday.

 

Prior to the motion on staff spacing, a motion by Councillor Swanson passed 6 – 1 that Council approve plans for a 3 bay apparatus area. There had been significant discussion re a 5 bay facility vs. a 3 bay one. In the discussion, staff, and certain council members, continued to promote the larger facility, noting the economy of building for the future. In contrast, after questioning the size of equipment to be stored and the size of the bays, Councillor Laing pointed out that in reality only 2 bays are actually needed.

 

There has been significant concern expressed by county taxpayers over the unnecessary over-build and extra costs, especially in light of the current economic situations. In support of their concerns, the Clearwater County Taxpayers’ Association promoted a public engagement meeting in March, made a presentation to Council at their March 24th meeting, and most recently wrote a letter that was sent to Council just prior to this last council meeting. Unfortunately it seems their concerns were largely ignored as indicated by the comments and decisions made yesterday.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Marianne Cole,

President Clearwater County Taxpayers’ Association 

RR #1 Rocky Mtn. House, AB T4T 2A1 June 7, 2020.

 

Clearwater County Council

Box 550 Rocky Mtn. House,

AB T4T 1A4 

 

 

Dear Councillors:

I am writing this letter on behalf of the Clearwater County Taxpayers’ Association, as well as other county residents, with continuing distinct concerns related to plans for, and cost of, the proposed Leslieville Public Service Building. 

 

 

First of all, we were certainly pleased to note in the Agenda Package that information was provided for both a 5 bay and a 3 bay facility. We trust that perhaps this is indicative that there may be consideration of a smaller building. There are, however, still some definite concerns.

 

 

1. At the top of page 3 of this agenda item (or page 18 of the agenda package) it refers to Ledcor’s figures and states, “Their proposal consists of a 16,000 sq. ft. pre-engineered steel building…” In addition, on page 1 of the agenda item report, county staff have written, “The scope of the building consists of 3 apparatus bays and 2 optional storage bays (10,000 square feet). The two story administrative area includes… 6,000 square feet.” Together this matches the 16,000 total building space on page 3.

 

In the chart provided, the revised estimate suggests that the building cost would be $2,900,000. For 16,000 square feet that would calculate to $181.25 per square foot. 

 

 2. Further down in the chart where it states, “Delete 2 bays” there is a deduction total of $351,750. There is a question about that amount.

5 bays of storage in 10,000 square feet would suggest an average of 2,000 sq. ft. per bay. At a cost of $181.25 per sq. ft., deleting 2 bays, or 4,000 sq. ft., would calculate a saving of $725,000 not $351, 750. One might wonder how that smaller total was calculated. 

 

3. Nowhere has there EVER been any suggestion of, or calculation provided, for reducing the staff/administration space. I draw your attention to the attached charts from a British Columbia government site and which I used to provide the information in our Beacon. Reviewing the starred figures, and then adding on space for a laundry room (120 sq.ft.), overnight accommodation (120 sq. ft.) and storage space (200 sq. ft.) the total amount of space for 20 staff would be 1,487sq. ft.. What is currently planned is FOUR TIMES THAT TOTAL…. For 11 volunteer fire fighters not 20. (Note: The research figures would also have been for full time staff, not periodic users.)

 

If the staff area were reduced by 4500 sq. ft. to the suggested 1500 sq. ft. there would be an additional savings of $815,625. (4500 x $181.25). Together, reducing to 3 bays and 1500sq. ft. of staff space would save $1,540,625 or 33% of the revised total of $4,671,250. Who would ignore a saving of 33% at any time, let alone in today’s economy???? Moreover, county taxpayers should not be paying for unnecessary, over-built, under-utilized space.

 

These figures deal just with the construction costs. It is noteworthy to anticipate that finishing, furnishing, and future maintenance costs could also be lower in a smaller facility…further justification for reconsidering current plans.

 

We can appreciate that pausing to re-evaluate the plans will delay construction, but feel the cost saving benefits out-weigh the delay concerns. One would hope that redoing the estimates could be accomplished within a month. Delaying construction for a short time now would certainly be advantageous in consideration of the financial gains. Who among you would not wait a month in order to save 33% on a purchase?? 

 

Furthermore, in light of the Covid19 situation and the very, very uncertain economic impact it may have on everyone, it is even more crucial that Council be extremely cautious with their decisions. Future financial burdens brought on by various unknown tax increases federally or provincially must not be augmented by unnecessary municipal spending. While we are aware that a certain amount of the funding for this project is coming from reserves, we are also aware that money may be moved from one reserve category if needed elsewhere. Who knows what the need may be in the future?? We need to use our reserves wisely.

 

Finally, on behalf of all Clearwater County taxpayers, we strongly urge Council to pause, re-evaluate, and proceed with the ultimate of fiscal responsibility.

 

Yours truly,

Marianne Cole

URGENT ACTION NEEDED


According to the Agenda Package released on the County website on Wednesday, County Council will make a decision on the scope & cost of the proposed new Leslieville Fire Hall on Tuesday, June 9.

 

Current plans suggest either a 5 bay (10,000 sq. ft.) or 3 bay (6,000 sq. ft.) apparatus storage area with an additional 6,000 sq. ft. staff area. Cost of building a 16,000 sq. ft. facility is $2,900,000 or $181.25 per sq. ft.

 

County staff has noted that a 3 bay facility is sufficient. This would provide a saving of $725,000.

 

Research indicates that only 1500 sq. ft. of staff space is needed for 11-20 full time employees. There are currently 11 on-call volunteer fire fighters at Leslieville. NO NEED FOR 6,000 SQ. FT. OF STAFF SPACE. Cutting the unnecessary 4500 sq. ft. would save an additional $815, 625. (Note: The new facility at Condor already has 6,000 sq. ft. of staff space and the two groups meet there regularly to train. There is no need for the additional space at Leslieville.)

 

TOTAL SAVING TO BE REALIZED WITH A 3 BAY FACILITY AND 1500SQ. FT. OF STAFF SPACE IS $1,540,625 OR 33% OF THE CURRENT PROJECTED $4,671,250. WHO WOULD IGNORE A SAVING OF 33%, ESPECIALLY IN THESE QUESTIONABLE ECONOMIC TIMES??? 

 

Fiscal responsibility is even more important now. There is no justification for over-spending on unnecessary, over-built, under-used space.

 

It is urgent that your voice be heard. Call, text or email your councillor: Jim Duncan--- (403)846-8254) jduncan@clearwatercounty.ca; Cammie Laird---(403)846-3760)cslaird@clearwatercounty.ca; Daryl Lougheed---(403)846-5817 dlougheed@clearwatercounty.ca; John Vandermeer--- (403) 844-9286 jvandermeer@clearwatercounty.ca; Theresa Laing--- (403)895-3215 tlaing@clearwatercounty.ca; Tim Hoven---(403)846-5197 thoven@clearwatercounty.ca; Michelle Swanson---(403)846-5824 mswanson@clearwatercounty.ca

 

JOIN THE SOS PROTEST--- Stop Over Spending

 

LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD

Monday, June 1, 2020

IN THE NEWS


By Marianne Cole

 

Land Use Bylaw Revisions 

Proposed changes to Clearwater County Land Use Bylaw caused significant up-roar and response on social media recently. As part of the County’s review of land use and development guidelines, the LUB was the first document considered for revision. First reading of the proposals had been passed earlier and 2nd and 3rd reading were up for consideration on Tuesday, May 12, following a Public Hearing scheduled for 9:00AM that day.

 

A few days earlier an article regarding some noteworthy changes to the original document had been posted on Facebook and an immediate outrage ensued. The issue went viral and very negative comments about Clearwater County were spread far beyond county borders. The main concerns focussed on 3 restrictive clauses: 1. Inability to sell home raised produce from a CRA parcel; 2. Restrictions related to Sea-Cans; and 3. Restrictions related to the parking of RV’s on residential parcels.

 

Due to Covid19, public participation in the Public Hearing was restricted to phone-in only and 16 people registered. People could, however, follow along on the live streaming on their computers. Unfortunately, within a short time, due to sound problems, the hearing was postponed. Once the Covid19 issues are resolved, and in person public engagement meetings can be held, the process will resume.

 

In the meantime, we encourage everyone to get a copy of the LUB with its revisions and review ALL parts of it. Comments/concerns can be raised on any part as the entire document is up for review. Your input is valuable and necessary to develop an acceptable document.

 

Clearwater County Reserves 

At the May 26th Council meeting a statement of reserves was presented. There were 29 categories of reserves listed with year end balances for 2018 and 2019, along with projections for 2020, 2021, and 2022. As of December 31, 2018 there was $95,284,282 total reserves. An additional $6,998,086 was added in 2019 for a December 31, 2019 balance of $102,674,528. Categories of particular note are:

 

Category                 2018                2019               2020               2021                 2022 

1. Tax Rate
Stabilization     $12,000,000    $12,275,730   $12,127,240    $11,377,336      $11,377,336 

2. Nordegg
Development     $3,897,259      $3,047,782     $5,992,898      $8,654,798        $9,414,798
 
3. Fire
Facilities            $5,934,706      $2,301,156      $351,156        $201,156              $351,156

 

Questions: With significant amounts in tax rate stabilization is there a need for any taxes to increase? What are the plans to recoup some of the debt in Nordegg development costs? With the significant decrease in fire facilities reserves due to the recent/proposed builds at Leslieville and Condor, where will the money come from for Caroline or other areas if necessary?? 

 

Leslieville Public Works Building 

 Concerns still continue to be expressed on the size and scope of the proposed Leslieville Fire Hall. Plans have consistently been suggested to include either a 5 bay or 3 bay equipment area with complimentary staff space. A 5 bay apparatus area would incorporate 10,000sq. ft., a 3 bay area 6,000 sq. ft., and a two story staff area 6,000 sq. ft.. 

 

As mentioned in our April Beacon, County staff has admitted that a 5 bay facility is NOT needed, but no verified justification has been given for the necessity of the immense staff space for 11 “on call” local fire volunteers.

Recent research on Office Space Standards for employees suggested the following sized areas:

· Break area (11-20 staff): 120 sq. ft.

· Meeting and training room (20 staff): 215 sq. ft.

· Additional meeting room (20-24 staff): 480 sq. ft.

· Washroom, shower, change room (4 @ 58 sq. ft. ea.) 232 sq. ft.

· **Laundry room with 2 washers and 2 dryers 120 sq. ft.

· **Overnight accommodation for 2 120 sq. ft.

· **Storage space (10 ft. X 20 ft.) 200 sq. ft.

TOTAL 1,487 sq. ft.

*** These 3 areas were not included in standard office space but estimates have been added to accommodate fire fighter needs. Also note that the first four standards above are for full time employees.

 

With these figures in mind, why is more than 4 times that amount of space necessary in the new proposed facility at Leslieville??? “Reasons” have suggested it is for training but that was provided at Condor. A second provision of that amount of space 11km. away is NOT NECESSARY. 

 

Financial reminders: The original 2018 budget for Leslieville was $2,157,938; the 2019 cost of the Condor facility was $4,303,000; and the now current proposal for Leslieville is $5,620,000 (2.6 times the original and $1,317,000 more than Condor.) How can the expansive plans for Leslieville be even remotely supported by a Council that has suggested they value fiscal responsibility?? 

 

SUMMER SMILES: 

 What did the pig say at the beach on a hot summer’s day?? I’m bacon.

Where do cows go on their summer vacation? Moo York. 

 

Coming Events: 

 Due to Covid19 the June meeting is cancelled. We’ll keep you posted about September. Have a great summerJJ

Friday, May 1, 2020

IN THE NEWS

By Marianne Cole

FOCS Exciting news!!! 
 Friends of the Corridor Schools (a committee of dedicated young moms along with current and former teachers as well as community members) has had a very busy and exciting week. After receiving an urgent email from Wild Rose School Division last week saying they needed a Letter of Intent, by Tuesday, April 28, stipulating the desired enhancements to the proposed new schools at Leslieville and Condor along with the financial support we’d be able to provide. An online meeting of the group was quickly organized and everyone sprang into action. By the deadline we excitedly notified WRSD that we had raised $81, 355 which would then be matched by Clearwater County for a total of $162, 710!!! These extra dollars are going to provide for an enlarged gym and CTS lab at the high school at Leslieville along with kitchen facilities at the elementary school at Condor. 

We send huge thank you’s to all the people, organizations, and businesses that so generously stepped up to the plate. The group’s original fund raising activities/plans all came to an abrupt halt with Covid19 so it is absolutely amazing the results that were achieved by word of mouth and social media. 

There is still a need, however, for more financial aid and it is hoped the county and community members might continue to add their support. Information on this can be obtained from WRSD or by going on the FOCS website. 


Clearwater County Tax Rate Information 
 At their meeting on Tuesday, April 28, Clearwater County Council passed first reading of a motion that would see a 0% tax rate increase for 2020. In explanation of the tax rate bylaw it was noted that there are 4 requisition areas: 1. Provincial School Tax 2. Municipal Tax Levy 3. Senior’s Foundation and 4. Designated Industrial Property Assessment (set by the province).

The province has lowered the school requisition down to the 2019 rates. The municipal assessment for 2019-2020 has remained fairly steady so non-residential properties will see a decrease in their school requisition while residential ratepayers will remain the same or have a slight increase. Maintaining a 0% municipal tax rate would satisfy the budgeted tax revenue for this year. The Senior’s Foundation requisition saw a budgeted increase of $19, 382 so that results in a 3.2% increase in tax levy for that category.

Second and third reading of this bylaw will take place on May 12. Earlier, Council had passed a motion to delay penalty dates for unpaid taxes to November 6 (from September 16) with an 8% penalty applied then and an additional 4% on December 16 if still unpaid.


Broadband Projects 
 Discussion also took place on April 28th on the current status of improved broadband/internet service projects in the county. It was noted that Alberta Economic Development has deemed improved rural broadband service a high priority. While no definitive provincial support was mentioned, there are various federal grants that may be applied for when projects are “shovel ready”. This means that the engineering has been done and tenders are ready. Currently RFP’s for a fibre backbone to Ferrier have closed and staff will be evaluating them on April 30th. Another project in the works will provide improved service to the Condor Public Services Building and the hamlet of Condor.

Along with the expressed need for better service, Council also noted the need for public engagement on this matter. In the end, Council passed motions that direct Administration to develop a public engagement strategy along with proposed projects, including RFP’s on the Condor project. 


Leslieville Public Services Building 
 In the April 28th agenda package it was noted in the Public Works report that “The RFP for the building was advertised April 20th, 2020. Closing date for proposals is May 12th, 2020. Construction is to commence July 31st, 2020 and be completed by December 31st, 2020.” 

The proposed size and scope of the building remain a concern with comments continually being expressed about the definite lack of need for the Leslieville facility to be as large as the one at Condor. Most frequently the comments focus on the need for 6,000 sq. ft. of staff/training space when an equally large area is already available at Condor. Currently the two groups train/meet together at Condor. It is also often expressed that there is no need for 5 storage bays and this was substantiated by administration at Council’s March 24th meeting. 

Finally, it has been suggested that the 12 acres initially allotted to a training area at Leslieville could better be used for commercial development. A rather forward thinking “millennial” even suggested a mobile home park on that land would be a great use of space and a positive addition to Leslieville. 

In consideration of the fact that the RFPs close on May 12 and Council will then make their final decisions it is crucial that you let your councillors know your opinion: What are the basic needs for the facility at Leslieville: *** 5 bays vs 3 bays??? *** 6,000 sq. ft. of staff space vs something much smaller??? *** Training area in 2 places vs training in the already available space at Condor???

As mentioned above, please let your voice be heard by Council. You may also email your comments to mcmajic@telus.net or give me a call at (403)729-2493 and I will pass them on. Fiscal responsibility is even more crucial at this time.


Smiles for spring: 
What flowers grow on your face? (Tulips) 
What did the tree say to spring? (What a re-leaf!!) 

Coming Events: Due to Covid19 future CCTA meetings are cancelled.