M.D. Settles in Under Pandemic "New Normal"
As I begin to write some notes about the goings on in our Municipality, our MD offices have been closed to the public for over a month now with many of the MD’s administrative staff working from home. Our last council meeting was held thru a conference call, and while it was challenging, it appears that this is the way things will have to be done and this will be the new norm in the near future. As a council we appreciate all the staff efforts and the public’s effort to “Social Distance” and “Self-Isolate” to bring a halt to this pandemic as quickly as possible.
It is absolutely amazing what a microscopic virus can do to the world, both in terms of human health and the economy. I think we are all in utter amazement the number of people who have been infected and truly saddened by the number of lives lost. The devastation to the economy locally, provincially, nationally and internationally is overwhelming. I sincerely hope everyone affected, and in one way or another that is all of us, will be able to survive this and that once the outbreak is over, all the businesses and employees can get back to work.
As I mentioned in our last newsletter, the downturn in the oil & gas sector has left the municipality with $2.4 million in unpaid 2019 taxes, and close to $5 million since the oil downturn started. The likelihood of ever recovering that tax revenue is very small. Administration and Council have looked hard at the budget to find savings, while at the same time trying to continue to provide the level of service you have all come to expect.
Many other issues are having a serious impact on our budget. The provinces desire to download costs and services onto municipalities, such as the “Police Model Costing”, and changes to the assessment model are a few examples. Beginning in 2020 our MD will be charged close to $200,000 for policing and by 2025 it will be closer to $600,000. The province has been talking about changing the assessment model for non-residential properties (Oil and Gas). The talk is that our assessment could drop by at least 30% in this class of properties. This class makes up close to 70% of our tax revenue. A 30% drop could have very huge and serious impact to the municipal budget.
Staff have been busy working on the mandated inter-municipal development plan and the inter-municipal collaborative framework with the Town of Taber. These documents outline where growth in the town is most likely to happen and how we can work together to help facilitate orderly growth in the Town and the area in the municipality surrounding the Town.
We have completed the same agreements with all the municipalities that surround the MD and in the MD (Barnwell and Vauxhall). The ICF document outlines services that are shared between the two municipalities and how we can work together (collaboratively) to develop other mutually beneficial service agreements.
MD staff have developed a couple of new ways for communication from the MD to the residents and from resident to the MD. The first is Service Tracker. If you have any kind of issue, (road maintenance, Water or Sewer issue if you are in a Hamlet), you can submit the issue through service tracker, which is found on the MD website. Once your request is submitted, your request will be followed up with you. The second is SCAR Notify, which will send you the latest news from the MD, emergency Alert messages from Canada’s national emergency alerting system (Alert Ready), weather conditions from participating municipalities etc. One example of how this might work is the RCMP might put out a message that a vehicle matching this description was involved in a hit and run. In your travels you may have noticed a vehicle matching that description. You can then phone in the Tip, and help solve a crime. There are many uses for SCAR Notify. You can also sign up for this on the MD website.
Because of the pandemic we are experiencing, there has been a lot of talk about deferring Utilities, mortgages and taxes. Discussions are being held on how we can help those who have lost their jobs or had to close their businesses during this crazy time. If a deferral to utility accounts, or the education portion of your property taxes is granted, you must remember, it is only a deferral, they will still be due at some point in time. It is not a forgiveness of those bills and taxes. The Annual General Meeting that was scheduled for the end of April has been cancelled for a date in the future. The MD audit and other information related to the Annual Meeting will be posted on the MD Website, or alternately you can contact your councillor.
All is not doom and gloom. We live in a wonderful place. Our municipality, towns and hamlets are full of wonderful people, who are doing a lot of good and helping others where and when they can. That is what makes our municipality such a great place to live. There are still many good things happening. Our partnership with Alberta Transportation in developing a Truck stop/rest area on highway 36 in Vauxhall is almost ready to be put out for tender. The Township 8 Range 16 drainage project is also almost ready to be put out for tender for construction. We are gaining support from other municipalities for the Southern Regional Storm Water Drainage project. In cooperation with SMRID, TID and municipalities, a plan has been developed to mitigate damage to property and the irrigation canal system by building a diversion from SMRID main canal thru Horsefly reservoir and Taber Lake and dumping the water back into the Oldman River north of Taber. This will leave the canal empty at the horsefly diversion to pick up storm water and move it further down the canal system to other reservoirs and to another outlet to the South Saskatchewan River near Medicine Hat.
On behalf of council, we wish you the best through these very trying times. If we all heed the advice of our Provincial leaders related to Social Distancing, Isolation and enhanced sanitation measures, we can come through this pandemic ok. When it is over we will all need to do our part to get the economy going again.
Municipal District of Taber