Weather Woes Hammer Region in 2019
What a summer and fall it has been in the M.D. of Taber. The HUGE hail storm that swept through the southwestern portion of the MD brought with it unprecedented damage to crops and buildings. Any crop in its path was almost completely wiped out. Potatoes, sugar beets, corn and cereal crops were all affected. Producers were doing their best to deal with the aftermath of that storm and get the last of the harvesting done when we were hit with a late September storm that too set records for the amount of snow dumped in September. I want to publicly say thank you to our staff who did their best to get roads opened up to the public as quickly as they did. No one was prepared for the amount of snow that came in that storm. It is a huge task to get that many miles of roads opened, and we appreciate everyone’s patience. Then the severe cold that engulfed the area and further damaged the crops that were still left to be harvested. It has been a trying year for most producers in the MD. In the non-irrigated areas, a lack of moisture through the growing season was a tremendous stress and severely reduced yields were the norm.
With the resignations of Derrick Krizsan (CAO) and Jeremy Wickson (Director of Public Works) earlier this year, we are pleased to announce that Arlos Crofts has been hired as the new CAO for the MD and will begin his duties on January 2nd, 2020. I hope that you will take the time to come and meet Arlos and welcome him to the municipality. He comes to us from the Town of Redcliff where he is presently serving as the CAO. The position of Director of Public Works has been filled by Stu Webber who joined us on November 18th. Please welcome him to our municipality. Perhaps a roadside chat will happen and you can express any concerns with roadway grading and gravelling.
As was mentioned in the last Reeves Reflections, our municipality is not immune to the economic situation happening in our Province. The downturn in the Oil and Gas sector has had a huge impact in our MD and all counties and MD’s throughout the province. Many councils in the province have severely cut services to their residents as the economic realities have been realized.
To date we have been cautious in our approach, but realize that cost cutting will be necessary to keep our budget in balance. The potential loss of more tax revenue from the oil and gas sector will have a huge impact on our budget. Approximately 70% of our tax base comes from that sector, and when it is hurting, our revenues will follow suit. The Province of Alberta has initiated a measure of tax relief for shallow well gas producers by reducing the education property tax portion of property taxes. It is expected that this measure will provide $23 million in support to the industry. As we go in to budget preparation season, we will be mindful of you the ratepayers, and do all we can to find the savings needed internally to minimize any tax increase.
It is great to see the progress of the Federated Coop Limited fertilizer distribution center east of Purple Springs. This is a great addition to our Municipality. It is also great to see the progress being made on the Solar projects in the Vauxhall area. Renewable energy projects, (Solar and Wind) are in the fore front as the MD has lots of sun and also enough wind (too much at times) for these types of projects. We have had numerous inquiries from companies looking for opportunities to set up their business in the area. Finding the best location, close to the needed services is the challenge. Economic development and attracting new business to the MD is one way we hope to make up for the down-turn in the oil and gas sector.
Progress is being made on the drainage projects south of the Town of Taber, known as the west Township Eight Range Sixteen Project. We have had excellent cooperation from the affected landowners in getting the right of way necessary for this project and we are in the final stages of engineering and water act approvals to get this project tendered out for construction. The larger Southern Regional Storm Water Drainage Project is still on going. We have met with Local Members of Parliament to explain the project and are meeting with Local MLA’s and ministers in the coming months to explain the project to them and the benefits of this large scale project to all of Southern Alberta. Benefits of this project accrue from Cardston to Medicine Hat.
We continue to support and lobby the government for HALO (Helicopter Airlift Operations) out of Medicine Hat. Many areas in our municipality are not serviceable from STARS out of Calgary due to distance. Halo is in serious financial jeopardy and may have to cease operations due to lack of funding. This important rescue service should be funded by Alberta Health Services as an important and essential part of the medical service provided to all Albertans, not just those in the larger centres who are within flying distance of Stars. Each and every citizen in the municipality should contact their MLA and discuss the importance of keeping this service viable and in flight for your life. You never know when this service will impact you or someone you know.
Everyone waited for the provincial budget to be delivered and to find out what impacts the provincial budget will have on the municipal operations. A few items of interest for the MD is the elimination, after 2022, of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI), the Basic Municipal Transportation Grant and the City Charter Fiscal framework. It is being replaced with the Local Government Fiscal Framework, which has funding of $860 Million with $455 million split between Edmonton and Calgary and $405 Million for other municipalities. Our MD had been receiving between $2.5 and $3.5 million annually. This money has been spent on road building/rehabilitation, equipment purchases. We will have to see exactly where this funding level will be after 2022 to plan our budgets accordingly. One positive from the budget is the doubling of the Gas Tax that is transferred to the MD in the amount of $395,620 in 2019. We expect the 2020 allocation to double to $791,240.
Our MD has been selected as one of 20 across the province to start an Ag plastics recycling program. Items such as grain bags, twines etc. can now be brought to one of our landfill stations for proper recycling of these items. More information is included in this newsletter.
The Rural Crime Watch program is up and running up in our Municipality. As we all look out for one another and report anything suspicious, we can have an impact on the amount of crime in our area.
On behalf of council, I sincerely hope you are able to weather the storms that we have been hit with this year. We also wish all of you a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with your friends and family.
Municipal District of Taber