ST. PAUL -
Elected just over two months ago, County of St. Paul Reeve Glen Ockerman is looking forward, not behind, as he settles into his new role at the head of council.
“The vision for the coming term is to determine a sustainable financial future for the County,” says Ockerman. To do this, administration will be tasked with reviewing all services offered by the County, determining where partnerships can be formed with neighbouring municipalities, if changes are required in how services are being delivered, and overall where costs can be reduced.
The County has received a grant to work on a Long Term Financial Plan, as part of its Asset Management Plan.
“This will be very important as we move forward with the review of services,” says Ockerman.
Other projects that are on the schedule for 2022 include several capital and maintenance projects “that will improve road infrastructure in the County,” and upgrades to municipal parks, such as a new boat launch for Lac Bellevue.
When asked what provincial issues Ockerman feels may need to be addressed in 2022, he points to the uncertainty around provincial police services, and dealing with the three-year “tax holiday” that oil and gas companies have been given.
On a federal level, the County is hoping to see consistency around COVID protocols, and “Support for pipelines to assist our oil and gas producers to get our product to market.”
Looking back on 2021, Ockerman and the rest of council will look to the county’s senior administrators for guidance on how to move forward, after the municipality completed a list of projects over the past 12 months.
“The County had a very productive year,” according to CAO Sheila Kitz. “We stepped out of the box and completed some projects for others, which resulted in revenue for the County, and savings for our municipal neighbour.”
One of those projects was the completion of work on Twp Rd 582, just north of the Town of St. Paul, and 57th Street, which runs along the west side of the Town and intersects with Twp Rd 582. The Town of St. Paul hired the County of St. Paul to do some of the base work on its portion of the project, while the County spent a large portion of the summer season doing work along the 582-stretch.
With the County doing the sub-grade and gravel base course work itself, and contracting out the paving portion of the project, it is estimated that about $4.8 million dollars were saved, based on Alberta Road builder rates.
The project wrapped up in the fall and traffic has been flowing along the busy roadways.
“We also are still navigating the pandemic world,” says Kitz, adding, this means there has been increased time away from the office for staff, and some working from home strategies were also put in place where feasible.
Then, with the fall election and three council members choosing not to seek re-election - including former Reeve Steve Upham, former councillor Cliff Martin, and former councillor Laurent Amyotte - change was inevitable for the County.
Newly elected to council are Division 3 Coun. Ross Krekoski, Division Division 6 Coun. Louis Dechaine, and Ockerman. Councillors Maxine Fodness and Darrell Younghans were elected by acclamation, while Coun. Dale Hedrick and Coun. Kevin Wirsta retained their seats.
When asked what the County’s biggest accomplishments were over the past year, Kitz and Director of Public Works Daniel Reid offered a list of items.
For the FCSS Department, there was an opportunity make a huge impact on the community, “particularly during the pandemic,” says Kitz. This was displayed recently with the delivery of Christmas meals for seniors.
The summer season saw unprecedented use of the County’s campgrounds. A heat wave that saw temperatures often hit 30C in July resulted in people visiting area lakes in droves.
Work was also done on Moosehills Road, which once again saw a huge cost saving with the County doing a portion of the work itself. A similar approach was taken, with the paving portion being contracted out but the County doing a portion of other needed work, and an estimated $1.5 million dollars was saved based on Alberta Road builder rates.
A dry, warm summer allowed lots of other road maintenance projects to take place throughout the season, but the conditions also resulted in the County of St. Paul declaring a state of agricultural disaster on July 27.
Amendments to the County’s Land Use Bylaw and Municipal Development Plan were also made in 2021, along with changes to the General Municipal Servicing Standards, and other planning policies.
“These were changed to reduce red tape and to provide clarity around the County’s rules regarding Municipal and Environmental Reserve lands,” according to Kitz.
There have also been a handful of projects that were the result of partnering with municipal neighbours, such as the hiring of a Municipal Energy Manager, which is supported by a grant from the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre.
The STEP Economic Development Alliance was created and the economic development officer position was extended into 2022.
“This alliance will provide an opportunity for all partners to see economic growth and sustainability in the region,” explains Kitz.
The year was not without its challenges, as the County saw its residential assessment shrink due to the provincial government’s change in rules with how oil and gas companies are taxed.
“This will have the benefit of economic development and keeping Albertan’s employed, however it does make it a challenge as the County tries to provide services with shrinking assessment, taxation dollars,” says Kitz. Additionally, the County was integrated into the province’s assessment of Designated Industrial Property (DIP).
“This means that instead of hiring an assessor to do this work – that assessed 100 per cent of the DIP properties... the province will take over assessment of these properties and will only physically assess 20 per cent of the properties,” according to Kitz. The County is worried that there could be a loss of assessment with the new approach.
Kitz explains another change being put forward by the provincial government that could have an
effect on the future of the County is how population is determined.
“This is concerning because many of the grants for municipalities are based on population. The province is going to start with the 2016 Federal Census
numbers. This is already problematic as the Federal Census numbers were 300 less than our current numbers,” explains the CAO. “The province has not outlined how they will determine rural municipalities populations as it seems they plan to use mailing addresses, which of course are not accurate for rural residents. We certainly hope that the move to this new way of determining population does not negatively impact our grant revenue that we rely on.”
Rain and sunshine
With the municipal election still fresh, and orientation for the new council only recently complete, 2022 offers a fresh, optimistic start to a renewed council.
“I hope we have rain and sunshine when needed for our residents. I hope everyone has a successful year and we can leave this pandemic behind,” says Ockerman.