BONNYVILLE – Looking back on 2021, Town of Bonnyville’s newly elected mayor, Elisa Brosseau, said “It felt like such a blur.” A sentiment most likely shared by many navigating the ongoing pandemic waves and adapting to unexpected changes.
Brosseau, who spent the majority of 2021 as a councillor for the town, said from a municipal standpoint the completion of the ID 349 agreement was a big win for the region last year.
Another 2021 highlight for Brosseau was the beautification program that the municipality participated in with Community Futures for business owners upgrading and improving their buildings.
“Honestly, another big win, I think, was just how much we all learned about the importance of collaborating and working together to support our own local communities,” she noted. “If nothing else, 2021 taught us how important it is to work together and also how important it is to support our local entrepreneurs, our local citizens, our local neighbours.”
With some businesses feeling the effects of a “global chain breakdown” causing some to start sourcing products locally, Brosseau said that she is seeing huge levels of support for local businesses emerging over the last year. “It's been really amazing to see.”
Summarizing what lies ahead for the Town of Bonnyville, Brosseau told Lakeland This Week, “My vision is that (as a council) we are making big decisions, we are getting things done, and we're working on it as a collaborative region.”
She elaborated, “For this council, quality of life is top of mind, and when I say quality of life, there's so many things that can fall under it. But we are really focused on how do we get people to want to move to Bonnyville, how do we get investors here? How do we help doctors, and CNRL and Imperial Oil people to want to move here?”
Smaller projects like lighting trees along Jessie Lake Trail and big decisions on projects like a potential new swimming pool, are items the municipality can contribute to that may help entice individuals and families to make the region their home, Brosseau says.
When reflecting on her recent appointment as mayor in October, Brosseau says, “Yes, that is definitely for me a huge highlight – a big accomplishment.”
The decision to run for mayor in 2021 was a challenge Brosseau felt she was ready to take on.
“I felt it was a natural progression to the next step in my career. I spent the four years just sitting back and listening and learning,” she said.
After the ballots were counted Brosseau said the results were “Heartwarming – You never know until you're in it and then when you get those words of support and encouragement – the support that a person feels is just amazing.”
Bonnyville’s regional fire chief
In a year of many changes to the leaders of municipal organizations, the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) was no exception.
In December, Dan Heney officially stepped into the role of regional fire chief after Jay Melvin, the previous fire chief, moved on from the authority.
Beyond the changes to the BRFA leadership, Heney said “(Last) year we have spent it preparing to make a number of changes in the organization. We've spent time preparing to move two stations into new halls… We spent a lot of last year putting plans in place for the purchase of new trucks, continuing to build out our mental health program to be able to support our members better, and dealing with a change from previous years in how grassfire season came upon us.”
Heney said with a dry spring and summer, as well as a delay of snowfall in the winter, the BRFA has had a lot of adapting to do regarding the wildfire season.
“It came in pretty hard and strong,” he said. “Even within the last couple of months we had a couple of grass fires not that far before the snow fell, just based on how dry everything was. And so it's been a lot of adapting to how weather patterns change.”
Heney points out that there have been longer periods of no rain, and heavy periods of rain also causing problems. The region has swung back and forth between severe weather systems.
“Now, just in the last couple of weeks, we have had to deal with significant snow events,” he said, noting that firefighters also respond to incidents occurring in the winter, such as vehicle collisions.
Additonally, Heney spoke about the possible relocation of the BRFA headquarters along with the 911 call centre.
At the very least, the authority has “started making plans and creating supports in place to be able to move the 911 Center - and I don't mean physically move it, but metaphorically - moving forwards to be ready for NG9-1-1 because there's an ultimate deadline on that, that we have to be ready for,” Heney explained.
MD reeve looks forward
Returning to the council table after a four-year gap, this time as the MD of Bonnyville’s reeve rather than a councillor, Barry Kalinski pointed to a few items the municipality saw success in during the latter part of the year.
One success the reeve was happy to announce was the completion of the Ardmore and Fort Kent fire halls.
“We gave (the fire chiefs) the keys to both the Fort Kent and Ardmore halls on Dec. 1,” Kalinski told Lakeland This Week.
When the municipality took over the remaining work at the two stations, a promise was made to get fire crews into their new halls by the end of the year, explained Kalinski.
“And they came through, so I was quite happy with that. It was nothing that I did or anything that I pushed, but just the staff themselves.”
The projects had been in the works since 2018 and saw the cost of construction increase from the original budget of $5 million to at least $5.16 million. With unanticipated legal costs, the total amount spent on the completing the two halls may be higher.
One item that remains undecided is the possible relocation of the 911 call centre to the Kopala building.
Although discussions around the move to the new building are ongoing between the Town and MD, Kalinski said it remains unclear what the two councils will decide when it comes to the vacant building.
“There's a lot to inhale when you come into that and it's a lot of information to understand,” said Kalinski, speaking to the decisions and conversations made by previous councils.
However, the reeve says a decision will likely be made soon on whether the Kopala building will house the 911 centre and other emergency services.
Talks around the Kopala building have remained as in-camera discussions, with little information publicly available.
Preparing for 2022
Giving a brief overview of what residents can expect to see in the year to come, Kalinski explained that 2022 will be a year of catching up.
“We decided to finish a bunch of projects and not to start anything super new this year to catch up... There are a lot of projects that past councillors had on the books and there are projects that were not completed. For 2022, I think we're just going to clean up a bunch of projects and make sure everything's (wrapped up) and then we can start planning for the future in the next year's budget,” Kalinski said.
One of the platforms that Kalinski had campaigned on leading up to the 2021 election was to rein in municipal spending. Balancing the 2022 capital and operating budgets without drawing from reserves will be a benefit for the MD, said Kalinski.
Offering a message to the community, he added, “I'm truly proud of everybody, all the people that work in MD. I'm proud to represent them and I'm proud to represent the people of the MD and I'm just wishing everybody a Happy New Year.”