Mayors, reeve look back to 2016, forward to 2017

Wetaskiwin mayor Bill Elliot won’t seek re-election he tells State of City crowd

Reeve Kathy Rooyakkers

After 28 years as councilor and mayor, the City of Wetaskiwin’s Bill Elliot announced Apr. 20 he will not seek re-election this fall.

Speaking to the Wetaskiwin Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon as part of his State of the City address where both County of Wetaskiwin reeve Kathy Rooyakkers and Town of Millet mayor Tony Wadsworth spoke, Elliot bluntly noted he’s not running in the next municipal election.

Elliot didn’t dwell too much on the bombshell. “I have many great memories and it would take too long to relate so many great memories,” he said to the crowd.

The mayor said he has a very good council to work with, a council that’s very active and makes sacrifices for the city.

Elliot stated he has lots of things planned to take up his time, including spending more time with family, working as a volunteer, working with First Nations and traveling to China next fall with the chamber of commerce group.

Any advice for the next mayor of the City of Wetaskiwin? “Do what you’re going to do for the right reasons,” added Elliot.

State of City

Elliot had plenty of other bits of information to share with the chamber crowd. “I’m going to brag about Wetaskiwin,” said Elliot.

“Today’s presentation is a good news story.”

He said looking back at 2016, the hiring of new city manager Dave Burgess. The mayor said fresh eyes and a fresh approach and the city is already starting to see savings in every department.

Why should people live in Wetaskiwin, mused the mayor? Elliot noted lower taxes and lower housing costs mean a one third lower bill than Edmonton and Leduc, an easier commute to Edmonton International Airport and Nisku, this community is eighth in Canada in per capita donations, the community has a state of the art hospital, great schools with lower student-to-teacher ratio, special schools such as French immersion and Cree, provincial museums, local museums, modern recreation facilities and a streamlined development process for new business.

“We are open for business,” said the mayor, noting the city saw 117 new business licenses issued in 2016.

Elliot said the city was also happy to see phase 4 renovations completed downtown, with phase 3, including Jubilee Park, to follow this summer. The mayor said he’s happy to see Main Street more accessible, including the new roundabout by the high school that’s improved traffic flow.

He was also happy with council’s recent budget deliberations. “We passed a budget with a zero per cent increase,” said Elliot, noting council understands the hardships facing local residents in the down economy.

The mayor said the city is proud of its poverty reduction and walkable Wetaskiwin committees and also noted Wetaskiwin residents see about 53 per cent of waste diverted from the landfill. “We are great recyclers in Wetaskiwin,” said Elliot, adding that the city is hoping to install as many solar-powered crosswalk lights this year as possible.

The mayor said there’s still plenty of work to do before next fall’s municipal election. “This council does not intend to coast into this election period,” he said.

Elliot said when critics say something negative about the city, it always affects elected officials including himself. Elliot said when you’re mayor, you’re mayor 24-7 and fully invested.

Reeve Rooyakkers

Rooyakkers said she wished Elliot the best in his retirement and laughed that it was a major announcement to follow-up on. “That’s going to be hard to follow, Bill,” said Rooyakkers.

Looking back at 2016, the reeve reminded those present that the county is vast, thousands of square kilometers and thousands of kilometers of roads.

She said 2016 saw some things continue as always; the county had to remove 11 beaver dams to keep traffic flowing. However, the county office also saw an expansion for much-needed space.

The protective services department is seeing ice and water rescue training going ahead in 2017. There are many partners involved, noted the reeve, but the South Pigeon Lake and Mulhurst fire departments will be taking the training.

There have also been changes made to the county’s fireworks bylaw: a fireworks permit is now required year-round. Also, changes to the county’s fire permits will change in 2018 to coincide with the Alberta government’s wildfire season. This year, the county will also have its 911 service coming out of a new call centre that has state of the art equipment.

Rooyakkers said the county is very proud of its new ice surface at the Winfield arena, which was both on time and under budget.

The reeve said public works is always an important department. “This is our biggest budget,” said Rooyakkers. She said gravel roads take the majority of the work, while several major paving projects are also planned this year.

As well, there are 171 bridges in the County of Wetaskiwin and the municipality is facing a possible deficit over the next 10 years on bridge infrastructure.

The county also had a serious problem with bridge damage in Aug., 2016. Rooyakkers said two bridges were destroyed by floodwaters, and the price tag is $3 million. The county is hoping to obtain disaster funding to repair the bridges and re-open those roads.

The county has also completed a rural road study. “We’ve just had our first look at it,” she said. Rooyakkers noted a third of the county roads get graveled every year; some may become a priority based on necessity.

Regional planning is an important part of the county’s annual workload, said Rooyakkers. She noted a Land-use Bylaw amendment was recently passed applying to recreational vehicle use in residential area of the summer villages and also noted enforcement is done on a complaint basis.

Upcoming changes to the Municipal Government Act will require certain agreements be signed with surrounding municipalities; Rooyakkers noted the county will have to sign 14 of these. She said the county doesn’t know yet if agreements will also be required with First Nations.

^

The reeve said the large decrease in linear assessment for the county has direct ramifications for the budget. Rooyakkers said there will be a tax increase to offset this loss, but it will be spread widely. The county is also, for the first time in years, transferring money from reserves to off-set the tax increase.

On the bright side, Rooyakkers said the county has a large supply of gravel stockpiled, and both unionized and non-unionized staff have agreed to take zero per cent wage increases in recognition of tough economic times.

Rooyakkers said she’s happy to lead a council that works well together. “I do have to say we have a really, really good council,” she said.

Mayor Wadsworth

Wadsworth also recognized Elliot’s dedication, and noted the three municipalities get along well. “There is no doubt the Town of Millet is fortunate to have the neighbours we have,” said Wadsworth at the luncheon. He noted it’s not common in Alberta for urban and rural municipalities to get along so well.

Wadsworth said 2016 was a very interesting year for Millet for many reasons, not the least of which is that he completed his first full year as mayor. “I survived,” he said.

He said the biggest hope was that the Nisku to Millet water line would be completed and switched on, as water quality issues have affected Millet for a long time. He said the town council has worked for years to get the project done. He said it was finally approved in 2012, but it still dragged along; Millet suggested the town pay upfront for the project, and be reimbursed by the province later.

Again, it was supposed to be up and running in Dec. 2016, but that didn’t work out either. Wadsworth himself vowed he wouldn’t cut his hair until the project went ahead. Well, a few weeks ago the mayor noted, it became clear the ceremonial switching on of the water was to be done Apr. 20, so he finally got a haircut. “It took six months,” he said of the hair-growing.

Another major project in 2016 was the annexation of some County of Wetaskiwin land on the east side of town. Wadsworth noted Millet did not have much industrial land available, and this annexation, with the blessing of the County of Wetaskiwin, would add 721 acres to the list. Wadsworth noted the annexation has gone through a provincial hearing and now the town is waiting on that decision.

The former Copper Tree proposed residential development is also back in the news. Wadsworth stated the project had been in receivership, but it looks like a purchase may be in the works. The town has signed a memorandum of understanding with a potential developer, and it’s possible the land in question could be on the market again.

He also noted two pedestrian bridges were recently installed, meaning the walking path is now continuous. He said councilors are also anxiously awaiting approval of a proposed off-leash dog park.

 

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