ELK POINT - Despite the sudden and unexpected impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elk Point Mayor Lorne Young feels that 2020 was “a pretty successful year, considering. The town was able to make progress paying down debt and the town and County of St. Paul found "new and better ways to work together” through an Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF).
The ICF between town and county was a requirement that Alberta Municipal Affairs put in place in 2018 with an April 1, 2020 deadline for all municipalities sharing a common border, and one that addresses services from transportation to emergency services to recreation. The county also has ICFs with the Town of St. Paul and the Summer Village of Horseshoe Bay.
One factor of the ICF is cost sharing on recreation facilities, including Elk Point’s Allied Arts Centre, and Young says, “That works for us.”
Amid a wide range of pandemic-relates restrictions that could have severely impacted the town’s plans for 2020, “There was nothing that didn’t get done; it was business as usual” for the town’s departments, the mayor said, although there were definitely changes in operating procedures.
“One thing we can take away is the fact that we can engage more with the public,” by holding council meetings on ZOOM and broadcasting them first on Facebook and now on YouTube. “I don’t think we will ever go away from that.”
Young said council also learned that “you don’t necessarily always need to go to Edmonton for a meeting, you can do it on line at a fraction of the cost. The 2020 Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) convention, held on ZOOM for the first time ever, was a prime example, he said, with no hotel, dining out or travel costs, and a much reduced registration fee that “saved the taxpayers money.”
Following a year of steep learning curves for council, Mayor Young says, “we’re all hoping that businesses and industry can get back to normal. You’re waling down Main Street and there’s no place you can sit down and have coffee, and that’s just one of the changes from what we’re used to.”
With 2021 a municipal election year, the mayor says he hopes “there will be renewed interest, serious interest, in running for town and county councils and the school board” this coming October. One of the challenges for the town in the New Year will be recruiting two doctors to keeping the healthcare centre operating at its present standard.
The possibility of establishing a regional medical facility in Elk Point at a future time was brought before council both at the Dec. 14 town council meeting and at a meeting earlier in the day with the chief and council of Frog Lake First Nations, with both councils expressing interest in such a prospect and the opportunity to do a feasibility study with an Alberta Community Partnership grant.
A prime concern for the coming year is the provincial budget, which the mayor fearing will be “a dose of reality and a source of worry at the municipal level.”
Spending associated with the pandemic has been considerable, “and now we have to pay the piper. All the things that are funded at the provincial level – schools, libraries, health care, municipalities, FCSS, will all take a hit in coming years.”
Aside from the impact the provincial budget may have on municipalities across the province, the mayor says, “We’re all hoping that 2021 will be the year that moves us away from COVID. It cost us a lot, not only in money, but in things lost. How will we regain that? Things are not going to change right away, but I’m confident we are going to be the survivors.”