Special Areas commits $5 million to 14 bed dementia and assisted living unit in Oyen

Dr. Reagan Weeks, Superintendent for Prairie Rose School Division, shared information on a new trades program at the Special Areas Advisory Council spring council meeting in March. ECA Review/Photo courtesy Special Areas Board
Written by ECA Review


Special Areas Advisory Council held their spring council meeting on March 27 and 28. The group welcomed Gordon Long as the newly elected representative for Special Area No. 4, Subdivision 1.

Appointments to various boards and commissions were discussed as there had been some vacancies as a result of the recent by-election.

Gordon Long was appointed to represent Special Area No. 4 on a number of boards and committees including Acadia Foundation, Big Country Waste Management Commission, and East Central Ambulance Association.
Advisory council reviewed planned 2024 projects and provided direction on issues affecting residents and businesses.

The need for sustainable healthcare that meets the needs of communities in the region was discussed, including key projects Special Areas is partnering on.

Special Areas has committed $5 million towards funding the construction of a 14 bed dementia and assisted living unit in Oyen, in partnership with the Acadia Foundation and the Government of Alberta.

Another key initiative discussed was the nurse practitioner pilot project in the Consort region. In 2023 Special Areas committed to fund two years of a nurse practitioner in Consort, significantly enhancing medical services in the community.

A nurse practitioner has been recruited and is expected to begin practicing this summer.

Schools update
Advisory Council welcomed presenters from both Prairie Land and Prairie Rose School Divisions.

Dr. Reagan Weeks, Superintendent for Prairie Rose School Division, shared information on a new trades program.

Advisory Council shared feedback on continuing challenges in school transportation, including long distances and time spent on busses by rural students.

Superintendent Cam McKeage and Chair Holli Smith from Prairie Land School Division shared updates on value-added programming in the division. The importance of building partnerships in the community to make sure programming reflects the priorities and strengths of the region was noted.

Financial statements
Advisory Council reviewed Special Areas 2023 financial statements and 2024 approved budget. 2023 had continued challenges with supply chains and resulted in lower than budgeted expenditure levels.

The Highway 855 paving project, cost-shared by Special Areas and the province, was deferred into 2024 along with some larger capital purchases. In 2024, Special Areas will continue to draw down the accumulated operational surplus and complete deferred capital projects and purchases.

Recent increases to the industrial tax transfer program were highlighted, including planned funding levels for 2024. This program provides predictable funding from Special Areas to urban municipalities found within Special Areas, helping fund amenities and programs used by rural residents in urban service areas.

Road program
Shaune Kovitch, director of municipal services, reviewed the 2024 road program as it had been taken out to local road committees earlier this year.

The 2024 road program season includes 29 kilometres of surfacing work, 31 kilometres of road re-crowning, and construction work on local roads, regional economic development projects and new resident access roads.

Ratepayer issues
Concerns with the impact of road use agreements for agricultural users were highlighted, and the group directed administration to exempt agricultural producers.

To help support effective road maintenance work, Advisory Council recommended an online notification system be created for agricultural hauling which has 10 or more loads in a 24-hour period that uses the same route.

Issues with coyote predation levels in parts of Special Areas was also discussed; direction was provided to create a coyote control policy for review later this year.

Ongoing drought conditions in the province and related water conservation efforts were discussed including potential impacts to local water supplies.

Reductions in planned allotments at community pastures were discussed, along with work to improve water security and infrastructure.

Water systems Irrigation project
Regional projects were discussed, including phase two of the regional irrigation feasibility being completed with MD of Acadia, Canada Infrastructure Bank, and Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation.

Earlier in 2024, Advisory Council recommended the water licence application for the regional irrigation project be submitted to Alberta Environment.

To support this new application, the water licence related to the Special Areas Water Supply Project was withdrawn.

The group welcomed representatives from MPE Engineering who shared findings on opportunities to further develop water systems in the region.

Rudy Freisen from the Red Deer River Municipal Users Group shared information on the group’s key priorities and projects.

The province has funded work needed to investigate the feasibility of mid-stream water storage on the Red Deer River.

The need for more storage in the Red Deer River basin was highlighted during recent work completed for the South Saskatchewan River basin, including drought modelling.

Land Use Order
Work updating the Land Use Order was discussed, including the public hearing held on March 12.

As a result of feedback received throughout the process, the draft Land Use Order document is being reviewed to ensure appropriate lot sizes and setbacks are in place.

Administration and planning staff from Palliser Regional Municipal Services will complete this review and provide a report back to the Board on recommended changes ahead of second reading.

The focus on controlling costs was a consistent priority for the group, as well as ensuring sustainable requisitions levels for municipalities in the region.

Upcoming ratepayer meetings have been confirmed for June 2024.

About the author

ECA Review

Our newspaper is only as good as its contributors and we thank each one who submits stories, photos and opinions. If you have a news item, photos or opinion to share please submit it to office@ECAreview.com.