Interview Submitted to Linda Steinke
How would you describe the past six months?
There has been a lot of change. From the day-to-day operation and management of the fire department to a by-election, the Village has seen substantial operational and political change over the past six months. I expect there will be more change underway as Council begins its budget discussions.
What change has been the most challenging to implement?
The new water rate has been challenging to implement. The reality is water was being subsidized through property taxes, which is an unfair way to pay for water, especially if you have low-consumption. Basically, residents were giving a discount to high volume users. The new water price involved rate shock. Council continues to explore ways to adjust the rate and ensure that it is priced in a way that is fair to consumers. We need a better system where price increases can be phased in over time. We also need to build our financial reserves to replace our aging water and sewer infrastructure.
What do you like most about Thorsby?
I must say I am a fan of the Chinese Restaurant in town. I will grab a bite before Council meetings. I also enjoy the Arctic Spa Recreation Centre. I joined a bike spin class and have taken my kids bowling several times. The community is fortunate to have such a great facility at its doorstep.
At Council meetings, there are concerns about the community’s ability to afford the Recreation Centre. What are your thoughts?
Very few recreation centres in the region or the province break even financially. Recreation is a social good. Indoor recreation gives residents an opportunity to stay active and healthy throughout the year and is a tool to market the community as a great place to live, work, and play. With that being said, we have to find ways to reduce operational costs. Recently, Council approved a keyless system so residents can access the weight room and field house outside of regular business hours. We hope this will increase the number of memberships. We are also condensing the ice schedule so we can reduce staff time to operate the facility. We are also working to find sponsors and increase revenue for the facility.
As CAO, what keeps you up at night?
Like many municipalities, our infrastructure needs replacement. Most people point to the condition of our roads as our greatest need. I tend to focus more on the stuff you can’t see, like our water and sewer lines. No municipality can exist without water and we need to ensure residents and businesses have stable and reliable access to water. We cannot afford to repair our roads and then have a waterline break. We need to fix what is underground first and then take care of the surface.
Are streets going to be repaired?
Yes, there will be a plan in place to maintain our road infrastructure. This year alone we spent over $60,000 on patching roads that had been damaged by waterline breaks. The Public Works staff (Phil, Ted, and Taylor) have worked very hard and filled over 800 potholes using 7 tonnes of materials.
To put that volume in perspective, that’s the equivalent of 7 baby elephants or 9,338 cans of pop. It is also a testament to the poor condition of our roadways.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
When I arrived in Thorsby, it drove me crazy driving over the train tracks. It was so bumpy. Public Works staff would find hubcaps scattered around the tracks. I managed to strike a deal with CP Rail to have the tracks paved and now the ride through the Village is much smoother. In addition, I negotiated a deal to use CP Rail’s lands for a snow dump site at no cost. This will save the community thousands of dollars and make our snow removal efforts more efficient.
Speaking of snow, what is being done to improve snow removal in the community?
Council approved the purchase a new front loader. The equipment will be arriving from England shortly. It is the most versatile piece of equipment we could purchase. The old bobcat system we had in place was very inefficient and could remove only small amounts of snow at a time. Residents should notice streets being cleared faster than ever before.
What’s on your plate going forward?
We are entering budget season and I expect Council to have a healthy debate about service levels. There is also a committee exploring the future of the community hall. On top of this, there is work underway to see what efficiencies can be identified by working more closely with Calmar, Warburg, and Breton. For example, I managed to negotiate a waste management agreement for all of the communities that will see a reduction in fees charged to consumers. The future of the community depends on cooperation with our neighbours and finding ways to share resources.