Valley Whistle won’t be mailed citing financial cost

Written by Stu Salkeld

The Village of Big Valley council decided its popular community newsletter won’t be mailed to each resident, citing high postage costs and other expenses. The decision was made at the Dec. 8 regular meeting of council.

Councillors discussed how The Big Valley Whistle would be distributed, and also the policy which governs it and decided to combine the two agenda items into one discussion.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Elaine Macdonald presented councillors with a report on The Whistle’s municipal policy which included staff recommendations for streamlining the newsletter’s production.

Mayor Dan Houle also requested councillors discuss how The Whistle was being distributed; earlier this year councillors, in an effort to reduce the roughly $6,000 cost of producing and distributing the newsletter, decided to offer it for reader pick-up rather than mail it out to every resident. Houle noted councillors promised to discuss the change later to judge its effectiveness.

Houle stated several times he felt strongly there was a communication disconnect within Big Valley and surrounding area that could be addressed if The Whistle went back to everyone’s mailboxes. Houle stated saving $2,400 a year wasn’t worth the lack of communication within the community.

Both Houle and Coun. Clark German noted members of the community stated they want The Whistle back in mailboxes.

However, staff pointed out $2,400 was incorrect; the CAO pointed out postage alone for The Whistle is $3,600 per year plus $500 for paper plus staff time on top of that.

It was noted mailing out The Whistle is about four hours of work per week for staff, while placing it for reader pick-up only makes about 10 minutes of work.

Staff also pointed out mailing The Whistle requires 400 copies of the newsletter, while placing it for pick-up requires only about 90.

The CAO stated mailing costs were not included in a draft 2023 village budget, so those thousands of dollars would have to be found somewhere.

Mayor Houle responded FCSS funds could be used to cover those costs which the CAO granted but noted FCSS funds can’t be included in the municipal budget and the budget must be balanced before it’s sent to the provincial government.

Amber Hoogenberg stated she would prefer to keep The Whistle as reader pick-up only, but admitted she is a social media person and doesn’t read a paper copy herself.

Houle responded many Big Valley residents like to have the newsletter in their mailboxes.

Coun. German noted he was concerned about the four hours of staff time spent on mailing the newsletter and felt that time could be better spent. German added if the newsletter is available for pick-up it saves the village money and the service is still being offered to the community.

During The Whistle policy discussion councillors read suggestions from village staff on streamlining the newsletter and updating the policy; for example, the size of paper in the policy is no longer used.

Hoogenberg asked about a proposed mandatory advertising fee in the policy for non-profit societies in Big Valley who wanted to place advertising in The Whistle. Staff responded a mandatory fee set by council would apply to all non-profits equally, whereas now non-profits make a donation as they see fit.

“Will that cause waves?” asked Hoogenberg.

It was noted in the event The Whistle was once again mailed out, the mandatory fee would help pay for that.

Staff recommended a starting point of around $250 for non-profit advertising.

Councillors voted 2 to 1, Hoogenberg and German in favour and Houle opposed, to keep The Whistle as reader pick-up with the intention of reviewing its effectiveness in six months.

Councillors unanimously approved amendments to The Whistle policy with the exception of a mandatory fee for non-profit groups.

Stu Salkeld
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.