Hanna council met via video conferencing for their regular meeting Tues. April 14.
Laurie Armstrong, Director of Business and Communication has been very busy since physical distancing has become the norm for operations at the Town of Hanna.
The town office was closed to the public on March 24 and since that time laptops have been set up for staff to work remotely where possible.
Armstrong reported that the new website which is continually updated has been instrumental in messengering to the general public is continually updated.
Armstrong also reported that the first edition of the electronic newsletter has been distributed to approximately 125 subscribers.
Armstrong said, “…that although this first effort was not without its bugs, people seem to be interested in receiving it.”
Solar Capacity Program
In response to questions from Coun. Olsen about invoice payments in the March accounts payable listing, CAO Kim Neill replied that two entries relate to the Community Generation Capacity Building Program business plan and the Town of Hanna Virtual Power Plant financial modelling plan.
These costs are funded by Provincial Grants.
Neill said moving forward on the potential implementation of solar power for Town-owned and operated facilities, Council will need to receive and review the Hanna Virtual Power Plant Project Plan including the capital costs, return on investment in order to determine whether or not to move forward and which financial option to proceed under.
These financial options will depend on the level of financial risk Hanna is willing to undertake.
Neill indicated there was no rush to move forward on these solar projects but the funding from the government has allowed the town to undertake a great deal of the work required to analyze the costs and benefits of these types of projects to the community.
There is a potential that solar construction costs may continue to go down which will make these projects even better financially to the town.
Neill added that there is a strong possibility of a large solar project being constructed in the vicinity of the Westmoreland property through a private developer.
One of the main stumbling blocks is the reduced capacity of the grid when the dragline is in use which can be overcome by phasing in the project.
Strategic Plan update
Kim Neill reported that Cactus Corridor Economic Development Corporation was working with Western Economic Diversification on funding to implement priority projects that are part of the Town of Hanna Strategic Plan and Cactus Corridor Economic Development Corporation Strategic Plan.
The economic uncertainties during this pandemic are contributing to the lack of an established time frame for completion of any of these projects and lack of knowledge on the amount of grant money that will be available to bring these projects to fruition.
Property Tax reviews
CAO Kim Neill informed that the open house for property owners to review their 2020 assessments has been cancelled twice due to COVID-19 physical distancing restrictions.
The province has mandated that municipalities move the final date for the appeal process on taxable properties to Oct. 1, 2020.
Therefore, the open house for Hanna property owners will again be rescheduled. On the bright side, Neill said that to date there have been no complaints from property owners regarding their 2020 assessments.
Hanna property owners have until May 15 to contest their assessments.
At the March 10 council meeting, an infrastructure project was awarded to Rubydale Asphalt Works (2006) Ltd.
CAO Neill reported that two components of this work, the road behind Tim Hortons and the road next to Hanna Tire, are being considered for deletion from the 2020 Infrastructure Project.
Negotiations with Canalta about the road behind Tim Hortons are ongoing but have not yet produced an agreement.
Another meeting with Canalta is anticipated before the end of April.
The road next to Hanna Tire is in poor condition but is a low traffic road and the funds to complete this project may be deferred.
Neill also said MPEngineering has completed their work on 2nd Ave. between 4th and 5th Street.
The Request for Proposal (RFP) went out and 12 bids came in.
The work entails the replacement of water/sewer mains, asphalt rehabilitation, replacement of service lines and installing some new curbs and sidewalks.
Administration proposes waiting until the May council meeting before any monetary decisions are made about this work because to help restart the Alberta economy, Minister of Municipal Affairs, Kaycee Madu, has suggested there may be funding available for municipal shovel-ready infrastructure projects which Hanna may be able to access to help with some of the budget for this project.
COVID-19 challenges for town-owned facilities
Director of Community Services, Gwen Snell, reported that she is receiving questions from hopeful temporary summer staff from students about the availability of jobs this summer.
These are questions she cannot answer because she does not know when the pandemic “stay at home” guidelines will be lifted.
Snell also said pool opening dates are uncertain. Presently there are no plans to open the pool on the May long weekend.
Discussions about opening the pool not only affect summer staff but also clients.
Snell confirmed the town lawns will still be cut and watered but at a reduced level when compared to 2019.
On a positive note, Snell reported flowers will be planted in town flower beds this summer.
CAO Neill said that Canada Summer Jobs funding has been increased this year and Hanna has applications previously submitted under consideration. Neill also said
Fox Lake Park availability to campers is another question that cannot be answered at this time.
Neill noted there are two private campsites in Hanna and these facilities will need to ensure they are meeting Provincial Public Health guidelines if they decide to open.
Director of Protective Services, Adrien Mohl has been questioned by town residents on the possibility of holding garage sales this spring.
Mohl stated that Provincial Health Administration have said that at this time garage sales are not recommended.
Budget 2020 and the pandemic
CAO Neill will bring a revised budget to the next council meeting.
“Right now there are a lot of dominos in the area of budgeting.
Budget adjustments will be just that, adjustments, said Neill”cNeill noted Council had made a directive to not increase the property tax rate, and when the budget was developed the plan was to have the same amount of dollars collected in 2020 that were collected in 2019.
At this time, the town does not know how many people will be unable to pay their property taxes.
The town also does not know the amount of savings with town facilities being closed.
To date conference calls with the premier have not indicated that municipalities like Hanna will receive any financial help from the province to make up the shortfall of property owners’ late payments or defaulting on taxes or utility bills.
Utility payment deferral
Council passed a motion unanimously to postpone utility service disconnections for outstanding utility invoices
Due dates on utility bills will be backed off to three months.
The use of disconnection notices and disconnections are the method used by the Town to collect on outstanding utility invoices rather than late fees.
Golf Club Loan Bylaw
The Hanna Golf & Country Club requested interim financing in the amount of $20,000 to assist the Club with their operating costs as a result of a potential late-season start-up due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Golf courses are presently considered a non-essential service under the pandemic criteria. Council discussed and then passed first reading of the Bylaw.
If the bylaw passes second and third readings at the next meeting the source of the funds will come from accumulated surplus.
The loan will have to be paid in full prior to July 31, 2020.
COVID-19, the hospital and lodge
Councillor Sandra Beaudoin said the District Medical Board reports there have been no COVID-19 cases reported at the Hanna hospital.
Nine additional beds have been made available for a local outbreak or will be used by AHS for COVID-19 patient overflow from other area hospitals.
Separate accommodations for Hanna medical staff coping with COVID-19 patients who want to keep away from their homes have been arranged.
Coun. Larry Stickel reported that the Lodge is locked down and has been for some time.