Special Areas Advisory Council finished off their 2019 meetings last week in Hanna.
Topics covered over the three days of meetings included the proposed 2020 budget, performance of new road recrowning projects, policy work around a potential tax recovery land sale, the new Provincial grazing lease rental rate formula and an update on wildlife management initiatives for Suffield elk.
The 13-member advisory council began by reviewing motions made at local ratepayer meetings this past summer.
The group provided direction to the Board and administration on a range of ratepayer concerns, from repairing the Dorothy elevator to discussing strategies for managing reclamation issues.
Patron concerns with the new community pasture policy were also discussed, and the advisory council recognized some of the challenges patrons were having with the new policy.
Over the next three days, discussions around changes to provincial programs and funding models highlighted challenges rural municipalities are facing.
Decreasing revenues from provincial grant funding, increasing levels of bad debts from oil and gas, and downward pressure on assessment are all contributing to challenging financial conditions for most municipalities, including the Special Areas Board.
When combined with new expenditures like provincial rural policing costs, the advisory council recognized the need to balance the budget by prioritizing strategic investments in critical services and programs ratepayers rely on.
Advisory Council welcomed a group of ratepayers supportive of renewable energy projects in the region to listen to their concerns with how renewable energy projects have been presented in the past.
The assembled group had a detailed discussion on the roles and jurisdictions of various parties in the development process, talking about the differences in the role of the Alberta Utilities Commission versus the role of Special Areas.
Kelsey Martin, Aggregates Manager, presented findings on various 2019 road program initiatives including the road recrowning work completed by both internal and contractor forces.
Council recognized the value of road recrowning as an additional tool in the road program, and the proposed 2020 road program was recommended to local road committees for review in early 2020.
On the final day of the meeting, the advisory council passed resolutions related to improving regional cell service, investigating online payment options and future water management at Little Fish Lake, lobbying the Province around reclamation standards, and continuing to use the historical formula to calculate grazing lease rental rates in Special Areas.
The next meeting of the Special Areas Advisory Council will be held in the spring in 2020.
The Special Areas Board meets bimonthly throughout the Special Areas.