Catching up on Infrastructure
We're finally catching up on our infrastructure work, which is great to see. After a couple of consistently wet years we fell behind, but we made real progress in the second half of the year clearing the backlog of critical work like the TWP 590 project. Thanks to some incredible Public Works crews and local contractors, we’re nearly back to where we feel that the project docket is acceptable. To add fuel to the engine, the Province has committed an additional $1.2 million toward infrastructure projects tied to job creation in the County. Rural Alberta will also be the beneficiary of $233 million in federal funds (matched dollar for dollar by the Province) under Canada’s Safe Restart Agreement as relief for municipal operating costs during COVID-19. Council is doing its level best to ensure the County receives its fair share of this stimulus cash.These infrastructure milestones and provincial/federal funding contributions are welcome news for the County. Maintaining our roads and bridges is always a good thing; getting local businesses back on the tools is even better.
The State of Agriculture
Our agriculture sector really struggled for a couple of years – again due to wet weather. I don't know how some producers managed during the prolonged state of unsalvageable crops and economic uncertainty; but they've really rebounded this year. I breathe a sigh of relief at this news, and I also marvel at the resilience of the ag community.
The Province cut some funding to our Ag Service Board this year, but not all of it; we have enough to keep key programs running. We've always topped it up anyway; the County never relies solely on provincial funding for its ag initiatives.
Connectivity and Economic Development
Connectivity is still something that's always going to be interesting in this province. But in our County, just because of where we're at, line-of- sights make things difficult and all the rest of it. But we're still building towers and we're still trying to negotiate contracts with providers and do whatever we can to make it better.
We have to run a County that is not only effective for business goals; we have to run a County that is not disruptive to the people who are already here so that everyone’s happy. We have a good understanding of industry and community. And I think that's very important. As long as we can keep the two balanced, we're going to be successful at drawing industry here.
For a new stakeholder business trying to move out here, I would want them to just come and talk to us. I think they'd find out how free flowing we are and how easy we are to work with. And they would love Lac Ste. Anne County.
Over the last 12 to 15 years, Lac Ste. Anne County has had the fortune of partnering with adjacent municipalities on the West Inter Lake District (WILD) Water Commission. This partnership has resulted in considerable improvements to the region’s water/wastewater infrastructure, with more exciting milestones to come. Not only have we begun to bring water to our agricultural land for spraying where they don't have enough, but we're bringing water to other municipalities to fuel growth – which is vital to rural Alberta’s survival. We can do away with having to dig big holes for fire suppression. We'll be able to have fire hydrants; we'll be able to do all the things that the big cities can do – without the big city.
When we are done, I believe we’re going to have the longest freshwater line in the province of Alberta. We’re justifiably proud of what we have accomplished to date thanks to the WILD partnership. I also must commend the Province for playing an active role in this venture. They’ve kicked in much of the funding (about 25 million to date); they've told us, ‘yeah, go – especially around the lakes.’
Financially speaking, when the County is consistently ranked in the top 10 to 15 best-run municipalities in the Province, we have to be doing something right. This is based on an independent annual audit from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB); it's not something that we pay for. It's not something we go and get. It's something that the Province does themselves. That's where we sit. And I'm very proud of that.
2021 is going to be interesting. Because we have to be so fiscally responsible. We're going to try not to cut services, which I think we can get away with. I think we can we can achieve a balanced budget without any increases.
The weather is going to be what the weather is. And we all have to work that, whether it's agriculture or construction. I also think that because the pandemic is a known entity, everybody understands it better.
I can't see a full closure of the Province anymore. What I can foresee is us just dealing with things as Alberta Health Services tells us to deal with them. I am confident we will carry on and remain as strong as we've ever been.
I’d like to close by thanking County ratepayers, staff, and my fellow Councillors for their ongoing support during these uncertain times. Like all of you, I can only speculate what lies ahead with the pandemic, the economy, or the other shifting sands of change in our region. But I am certain of our resilience as rural Albertans, and I’m confident that by working together we can weather whatever the future holds.
What's in the Council section...
County Minute: Infrastructure
"We're finally catching up on our infrastructure, which is nice to see. It took a couple of really wet years we got behind, but we're back at it. We're catching up with incredible crews, incredible people. It's brought us back to just about to the place where we feel that it's acceptable."
— Reeve Joe Blakeman