Three communities gathered to break bread together and listen to their top elected leaders May 2.
The Wetaskiwin Regional Chamber of Commerce held their annual City, County of Wetaskiwin and Millet Mayoral Address luncheon at the Best Western Hotel in Wetaskiwin.
Chamber executive director Jennifer Garries noted that the reeve and two mayors would speak in a randomly determined order. Up first was County of Wetaskiwin reeve Kathy Rooyakkers.
State of the County
Rooyakkers began by describing new requirements from the provincial government; the revised Municipal Government Act will require municipalities to have various agreements in place with neighboring municipalities, including Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks and Intermunicipal development Frameworks. If you share a border with a municipality, you have to have these agreements; the County of Wetaskiwin shares borders with 13 other municipalities.
The good news is that the provincial government provided funding for creating these ICFs and IDFs.
The reeve said marijuana legalization has also been the topic of some discussion; the county is reviewing information to develop the necessary policies. Zoning changes will also be required.
Rooyakkers said the county saw 284 development permits approved last year with a value over $30 million. There were 14 new business approvals.
The Millet annexation was approved Jan. 1, involving mostly industrial land which is now part of the Town of Millet. The town will now be able to provide certain utilities to that land.
Rooyakkers said many in the community are excited about G3 proposing a new grain terminal in the county. She said it’s proposed to handle 42,000 tonnes of grain per day and will be a great addition to the community and a great revenue sharing project between the County of Wetaskiwin and Millet, through the Join Economic Development Initiative.
Two damaged bridges in the county were a concern last year noted Rooyakkers. She said the provincial government provided $1.8 million for work on the aptly-named Washout Creek Bridge.
Environmental sustainability is also important in the county said the reeve; she pointed out a bylaw that controls fertilizer use within a certain distance of a lakeshore.
The Pigeon Lake Wastewater System’s second phase should be starting soon; it’s valued at over $7 million and is planned to be completed this fall.
The county is also currently looking at getting more involved with social media.
The reeve noted over 54 per cent of expenditures go towards roads, and roads are the county’s biggest priority.
With tax season approaching, Rooyakkers noted the council recently approved a three per cent increase in the mill rate; combined with assessment, this will determine a property owner’s tax bill.
Rooyakkers said the county was prudent in the past with transfers to reserves, thus giving the municipality a cushion in tough times.
State of the Town
Town of Millet mayor Tony Wadsworth spoke next, touting his town’s past year while channeling a certain president from south of the border.
He had good news for Millet property owners. “Our taxes this year will not be going up,” said mayor Wadsworth.
Wadsworth said the town is very excited that the Lakeside meadows development is back on track; there are 1,200 homes included in the plan.
Wadsworth also mentioned the annexation of industrial land from the county; the mayor noted this doubles the geographic size of the town.
Millet is also the proud new owner of its own dog park. Wadsworth said it’s a great spot in Millet to take a stroll with your four-legged friends.
Millet was sad to see its elementary school close this past year; Wadsworth said the town will be holding a meeting on May 29 to discuss the school’s options.
The mayor noted JEDI lost one member this year when the City of Wetaskiwin withdrew. He sated some arbitration will be needed to sort out the city’s exit.
The mayor said council was happy to introduce a new open mic session at all their regular council meetings to give local residents a chance to speak to council.
Wadsworth said the town is also talking to at least one developer about the new industrial park on the east side of town.
Millet will also have its very first visitor guide this summer, spearheaded by councilor Pat Garrett.
State of the City
City of Wetaskiwin mayor Tyler Gandam spoke next and referred to the city pulling out of the JEDI group in 2017. He said the city did a cost analysis study of its JEDI membership which suggested the city would be better off keeping the funds within the city.
However, Gandam said the city is committed to working positively with its municipal neighbours.
He said the “Wetaskiwin is Working” initiative, focusing on business retention and expansion, is enjoying success.
Mayor Gandam said the city was very happy to see its Main Street and Jubilee Park projects completed.
Emergency services are very important in a city, and Gandam said the new fire department training facility was a great addition. He said the excellent training services will make the department even more prepared for emergencies.
Gandam said the city has been carefully considering cannabis legalization. The city is offering an online survey together local opinions and the city has spoken to other municipalities about the issue; some are sticking to federal guidelines while others simply don’t want cannabis in their community. Gandam noted the city will be holding an open house on cannabis legalization after it’s done compiling information. The open house will feature everything the city’s gathered on the subject, and will be held before council makes any decision on the issue.
Looking at recreation, mayor Gandam said the city is preparing for the busy summer programming season, and appears to have more programs available than ever before.
The mayor said the city is methodically collecting revenue for infrastructure upgrades; he said the surcharge levied included a 2.5 per cent rate that was to be collected until a $1.5 million target was reached. The amount collected now sits at over $1.4 million.
He also discussed local improvement levies, which are charged in many other communities and were used in Wetaskiwin until 2005. He said the funds are needed to improve the poor condition of many roads and sidewalks, and regular tax revenue doesn’t cover this expense.
Gandam said he’s also looking forward to the ICF process with the County of Wetaskiwin because the city gets along well with its neighbor.