Tuesday, April 11, 2017

CLEARWATER COUNTY COUNCIL MEETING HIGHLIGHTS

By Marianne Cole

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

1. Summer Tour--- This was first held last year and was organized by our Ag Services Department in cooperation with the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance. It involved a canoe trip on the North Saskatchewan River with provincial rural caucus members and other dignitaries. This year an ATV trip is being planned for August, potentially in the Rig Street or Big Horn areas. The purpose of this would be to promote the benefit of designated Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ), along with advocating for the work the county has been doing on maintaining west country trails.

2. Clearwater Regional Fire Services--- Pivotal Project has been retained as project manager for the construction of the new Condor/Leslieville Fire Hall. They in turn advertised for a request for proposal (RFP) for a Primary Consultant who would be in charge of engineering and design. The successful applicant for this, BR2Architecture, was chosen after to scoring the highest on a summary evaluation. Their fee for service will be $291, 165.
(Note: It is stated in the agenda package that “Section 1.8 of the RFP states that the County is not bound by the lowest bid in evaluation and award of the RFP.” This is most interesting as other instances of RFP’s have noted that the county must accept the lowest bid, which raises the question, why the difference? )

3. Nordegg Historic CIBC Bank Building--- Due to its deteriorated physical state and hazard to public safety, the building had been slated for demolition. A very generous offer from TdB Construction (Ted deBoer)has been put forward to reinvest the demolition cost into stabilizing the structure and maintaining its original fa├žade. This would allow for future development/use of this historic structure.

4. Pine Beetle Resilience Project--- Mr. Rob Friberg, a PhD student from the University of British Columbia outlined his proposal to work with communities on the western side of Alberta to study strategies that might make our forests more resilient to pine beetle attacks. His proposal would involve interviews with local residents, elected officials, and industry personnel as part of a focus group. County council voted to support his endeavors.

5. Financial Matters

 > Federal budget--- Highlights noted were the $28.5 million deficit, funding for “green” water    (mostly for First Nations), affordable housing, and the gas tax fund. Councillor Maki suggested that  our council reps who attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference should make  every effort to pass on to the appropriate federal politicians that the “green” infrastructure must  include funding for the internet in rural Canada.

 > Reserve Transfers--- Because some projects budgeted for in 2016 didn’t materialize there is an  unallocated amount of $629, 128 in unrestricted reserves. Discussion took place on what to do with  this…leave as is or put into a restricted fund. Leaving it as unrestricted gives council flexibility as to  its use, and it was also suggested that council can review the current reserve balances at its A & P  (Agenda and Priority) meeting next week. It was also suggested that it may be prudent to review the  tax rate bylaw before making a decision on reserve transfers.

 > 2016 Audited Financial Statements--- Phil Dirks, representative from Hawkings Epp Dumont,  along with Rhonda Serhan from the county, reviewed the 2016 audited financial statements. He  noted that the county is in a healthy position financially, that the county staff was very helpful, and  that accounting procedures are very satisfactory. Two concerns that had been raised by taxpayers  were addressed: a.) The Regional Waste Authority financials will now be under the control of the  county as we are a managing partner, and b.) The debenture servicing costs relate to the renovations  done on the Westview Lodge, and that the penalty for paying off the loan would be greater that the  interest costs. A key note of interest for taxpayers is that revenue last year was $3.3 million higher  than expected, and that the accumulated surplus per capita is $5,500, just over the average of $5, 300  for the jurisdictions Hawkings Epp Dumont compared.


 > Tax Rate Bylaw--- Discussion took place on setting the 2017 tax rates. It was noted that a budget  deficit of $213, 757 could occur due to a decrease in revenue resulting from lower assessments.  However, it was also mentioned that well drilling dollars are already up for 2017 so that could  alleviate a deficit. In the end it was decided that there be no increase in municipal taxes, though there  will be a 1% increase in Education Tax (government controlled).


6. CCTA Letter of Invitation--- Following a motion made at its March meeting, the CCTA had sent a letter to each councillor inviting them, as taxpayers, to attend any of the CCTA’s monthly meetings. Subsequently this letter was discussed today.
It was noted that perhaps a policy is needed before a decision on this is made and that the new MGA is proposing a matrix for such a policy. Councillor Laing suggested it should be left up to each councillor to decide on what community meetings they might attend if invited. It was noted that administration is in the process of preparing a draft policy for the next A & P meeting of council on this matter.
IN THE NEWS

By Marianne Cole

1. Joint Town/County Council Meeting, March 14

Following the County’s February 16th public meeting on the proposed Area Structure Plan for the land north of Rocky, the town requested a joint meeting of town and county councils. Highlights were:

 * Concern was expressed by town councillors that they hadn’t been consulted on the content of        the ASP before it went public.
 * It was noted that all meetings of the Intermunicipal Development Plan committee had been “in  camera” and information was not shared with either council prior to the February meeting.
 * Elected members of the committee are Pat Alexander, Curt Maki, and Jim Duncan from the County  and Fred Nash, Jason Alderson, and Don Verhesen from the Town. The respective CAO’s and    planning department personnel also attended.
 * County councillor Earl Graham suggested that committee level “in camera” sessions could be  brought back to a whole council in camera session. Ron Leaf suggested councils get legal advice on  the matter.
 * County councillors were generally in favor of proceeding with the Area Structure Plan although  one councillor suggested more info was needed on financing and the Rocky’s lagoon system.
 * Town councillors were more reserved, with concerns over financial benefit along with lagoon  issues and transparency of information.
 * In the end Ron Leaf said that there is lots of work, negotiations, and public consultation needed  before final plans are approved.


2. Results of the Town’s Economic Feasibility Study

The results of the town’s economic feasibility study on the Joint Development Agreement with the county on lands to the north of Rocky was recently presented to the town with the following highlights:

 * The JDA could have a positive fiscal impact on the town but there are risks.
 * The timing and magnitude of growth from the JDA is uncertain and subject to current economic  conditions.
 * With current population trends, the town does have plenty of land for residential growth, but has a  limited supply of commercial and industrial land.
 * In further questioning by town councillors it was noted that if the town doesn’t grow, there is no  need for more land.

3. Clearwater County Crime Watch

The Clearwater County Crime Watch held their annual general meeting at the Leslieville Community Centre on Wednesday, March 29. Special highlights of the meeting were:

 * Presentation by a representative of the Action Coalition on Trafficking. She explained that human    trafficking is not limited to young females for the sex trade, but can involve both
 genders in any situation where they are held against their will, under duress, with little or no pay, and  in potentially deplorable living conditions.
 * Presentation by Sgt. Jay Penner of the Rocky RCMP. He indicated that the incidence of domestic  violence has gone up 130% in Clearwater County in the last year. Much of it attributed to drugs and  the economic conditions. The RCMP is working diligently to curb drug use and crime with their  strategy of tracking/watching repeat offenders and those on parole.

The County’s Crime Watch group is desperately needing board members and we encourage anyone interested in helping support this very beneficial group to contact Marianne Cole or Trish Bingham.

ROSES: This month’s bouquet of roses goes out to the Clearwater Broadband Foundation’s board of directors. They have worked diligently to gather information on the benefits and feasibility of improved broadband services to county residents. This has been an issue that area residents have indicated was of significant importance to them. We certainly commend the CBF for their diligence and efforts to work together for the provision of a very beneficial service for county residents.

RANT: As I reflect on the various development discussions/meetings that have taken place this past year I am reminded of the continual opinions of county taxpayers:

 * The CCTA’s survey in February 2016 indicated overwhelming opposition to the county’s building  plans.
 * At the Dovercourt meeting in May the requested show of hands showed huge opposition to the  building developments.
 * The county’s own satisfaction survey this past fall indicated significant opposition to the building  plans but strong support for improved broadband service.
 * At the ASP open house in February the need for additional development and concern for the  economic benefit was again brought forward.

With the county taxpayer sentiments being so clearly expressed in opposition, I continue to wonder why the county presses on with their development plans. Isn’t there a cost to the continual consultant work? Why continue if there is so much opposition? OR… Do the opinions of county taxpayers, those footing the bill, have absolutely no relevance? Is there any validity to the promise that we would be consulted before any decisions are made? Even after consultation, will the decisions made follow the wishes of the majority??? Perhaps the fall election will be the only real way to ensure our voice is heard and definitive answers to this whole quandary are provided. One could only hope.

Coming Events:

April 13, 2017, Regular monthly meeting, 7:00PM

May 11, 2017, Regular monthly meeting, 7:30PM

Note: Meeting time change in May from 7:00PM to 7:30pm