In the battle over the burning of flax straw within Starland County, council was presented with a possible solution at their regular meeting on Wed. Feb. 10.
Fire Marshall and Municipal Services Manager Glen Riep and Agricultural Fieldman Alan Hampton shared their introduction of a flax straw fire burn operations and procedures policy as an addendum to a fire permit.
Because of varying opinions in the county regarding flax straw burning, the county originally rescinded its burning bylaw for the offseason, leaving the issue up to the provincial Forest and Prairie Protection Act
The policy indicates that the directive of it is to ensure the safety of all properties against the spread of fire and ensure all amenities of the surrounding properties are not adversely impacted by operations that include the burning of flax.
It states that no burning should be done within 50 metres of a primary or secondary highway or right-of-way and 25 metres from all other roadways.
The distance increases to no burning within 100 metres of a residence not occupied by the applicant which includes urban centres and neighbours.
Applicants are asked to only burn up to 10 bales at a time or no more than 50 piles/bales or aggregate total of 250 cubic metres of material to be burnt at one time.
Consecutive burns may be allowed upon completion of the initial burn.
Council was concerned with highway signage to alert passersby that the smoke, if seen, is from a controlled burn to avoid unnecessary phone calls.
It was suggested the county either provide some signage that can be rented out or made a note in the policy to have farmers create or purchase their own.
Councillors were torn over making this mandatory or leaving as a suggestion as mandatory requires the county to be liable.
“The strategy was to minimize as much smoke as possible,” said Riep. “Where we had the problems was where 200 bales were lit at one time.
“The way we looked at it was that we minimized the amount of product being burned so it reduced your amount of smoke period,” concluded Riep.
A motion was made and carried to amend these additions to the permit with a recommendation for permit holders to put out signage.
McLaren Dam reservations move online
In a pilot project spurred by the county, it was decided to allow online campground reservations at McLaren Dam.
Administration talked feasibility and associated costs with the project after they were asked to bring thoughts and dollars to the table of what it might cost to do this at the dam.
Existing sites will be required to have labelling or signs for the designation of eight serviced sites.
The campground has 18 sites in total that are serviced.
The eight chosen for online registration will be specifically sectioned off as reserved preventing any drive-up customers from accessing the site.
Daily supervision is required to ensure occupancy is correct which administration will determine if a new position will be created or a current staff member may do.
Another stipulation is that laptops or tablets are needed to access the online information when the staffer is checking sites.
Administration anticipates the signage to cost around $2,000, $3,000 for computer equipment for staff; existing work-week staff time would cost $150 weekly; weekend time at $100 weekly as well as on-call or after hour supervision; and contract services would amount to $5 per camper.
Prices will increase due to the increased costs incurred by the county.
In a separate motion, all of Starland’s campgrounds non-serviced lots will be set at $25 as council felt they should be equal and rounded-up, with the possible addition of Tolman Bridge Campground where their price is $21.
Last year, the county did see a large increase in revenue from campsites comparing 2020 to 2019.
The Starland Recreation Area produced $28,000+ in 2019 and rose to $47,100.24 in 2020.
Michichi Recreation Area went from $24,157.14 to $30,525.72 in 2020 while McLaren Dam doubled its revenue.
This dam was sitting at $5,398.75 in 2019 and then jumped to $10,900.62 in 2020.
A lease agreement has been sent on to Starland County from the province to take over both portions of the Tolman Bridge Campground for free.
Council agreed to enter into the lease agreement for 20 years as long as they get neighbouring Kneehill County’s blessing to operate on their side.
When administration spoke with Kneehill County, it was explained they were favourable for Starland to run the entire operation as their staff do not venture into that area often.
The present caretaker for the campground is also the attendant for Midland Provincial Park, the Bleriot Ferry and Dry Island Buffalo Jump.
Recourse for unpaid taxes
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Shirley Bremer shared with council during her CAO report that she submitted feedback on Directive 067: Eligibility Requirements for Acquiring and Holding Energy Licenses and Approvals, to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).
She noted that with virtually no reasonable means to collect unpaid taxes, something needs to be put in the requirement to keep them current or they lose their eligibility to operate.
Starland County’s overall unpaid non-residential taxes totalled $10.4M over the past three years with $3.4M of this amount owed by operational oil and gas companies.
A total of $4.8M is from 2020 alone, which is nearly 45 per cent of Starland’s total tax revenues.
With oil and gas companies not taking responsibility for their tax payments to municipalities it leaves the municipality in a very vulnerable state.
“In addition, our requisitions are based on the total assessment, including these companies, and we have to pay the requisition amounts even though we cannot collect from the oil and gas companies,” stated Bremer.
“We need some form of control and recourse.
“A policy should be established, wherein we notify the AER each year as to who has not paid their tax levies and then their licenses should be suspended until they pay,” she stated in her report.
This resolution was passed at the Alberta Urban Municipality Association (AUMA).
Delia foreman replacement
Glen Riep shared with council that the Village of Delia has found themselves in a predicament where their public works foreman has resigned leaving the position open until a replacement can be found.
The village approached Riep asking if he could take over the water and wastewater operations and water requirements for the interim at five days a week to monitor.
Riep noted that he could do this but wanted council’s approval first and that they find a replacement within two months, much like Morrin’s situation earlier on.
Council agreed to allow Riep to monitor and test their water systems for this time charging $1,000 per month.
Bylaw for regional assessment review board
Council passed a motion to establish Bylaw 1161 to establish the county as part of the Central Alberta Regional Assessment Review Board to exercise functions of the local assessment review board for $2,000 per year.
Administration noted no one from the county will be sitting on the board as there are professionals that can now take that position.
The county can also draw on the resources this board provides when a hearing occurs.