Submitted by the County of Wetaskiwin
2020 has been an unusual year for everyone, but the County of Wetaskiwin remains committed to providing essential services to our citizens while working through the many challenges of a global pandemic, severe weather, and an uncertain fiscal environment.
COVID-19 has changed so many things this year. The County understands the challenges facing many of our residents. In the Spring, the County removed all penalties on accounts receivable and utilities from March 1 to Sept.1, 2020. The County also extended the deadline to pay municipal taxes until December 31, 2020. One positive to come out of COVID was Albertans being tourists at home. County Campgrounds saw record number of visitors in 2020 with an increase of 23 per cent, even with a month delay in opening. Finally, the County would like to thank everyone for doing their part and following Alberta Health’s recommendations related to COVID-19.
Spring and summer brought with it wet weather and extreme storms, which had significant impact on County roads causing road damage, soft roads, gravel loss, culvert damage, drainage issues, and project delays throughout the County. The weather did improve through August and September which allowed for crews to work the roads and address multiple failed centreline culverts. There was a total of 78 culverts and 2 deep fill culverts installed this year. The County also worked on a shoulder pull campaign which completed 33.06 km of County roads. 2020 also saw the completion of Phase 2 of the South Pigeon Lake wastewater line and the Alder Flats wastewater expansion.
In August, rural municipalities across Alberta were shocked by the proposed Assessment Model Review that would have seen the County lose millions in oil & gas revenue. Thankfully, Rural Albertans spoke up and the Government of Alberta listened. There is currently a pause on the Assessment Model Review. Instead, alternate concessions to oil well drilling taxes and assessment changes were made that will resulted in an estimated loss in revenue of $725,000 for the County.
Additionally, provincial costs continue to increase, particularly the Police Funding Model. In 2021 the County will be required to transfer $427, 506 to the Government of Alberta. This number will increase to $855,012 by 2023. Due to this increase, along with the province not providing credit for support staff, the County is no longer able to fund the Crime Analyst position at the Wetaskiwin Detachment.
In an effort to continue to find efficiencies, Administration has been working to implement the recommendation from the Service Capacity Review. Some significant changes include the approval of a new organizational chart for the County, change in auditor and planning services which has resulted in a cost savings, and increased operational efficiencies through additional training, implementation of fall gravelling program, and changes to Council meetings to accelerate approval processes.
In 2020, the County completed our last three Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks (ICF). The County now has completed 9 ICF’s with our 14 neighbouring municipalities.
In October 2020, Josh Bishop was elected Reeve and Lyle Seely Deputy Reeve for the next year. Thank you to Terry Van de Kraats for serving as Reeve for the last two years.
Looking forward to 2021, budgets will be tight and difficult decisions will need to be made. Increased costs and reduced funding sources are going to impact the County’s decision making for the next several years. However, the County is looking forward to making increased investments in our road and bridge infrastructure. Plans have started for the construction of a new fire hall for the Buck Lake/Alder Flats Fire Department. October 2021 will also bring a Municipal Election. Continue to watch the County website and Pipestone Flyer for election details.