Morinville CAO Andy Isbister poses with his successor, Morinville CAO Designate Stephane Labonne on Labonne’s first day on the job. Isbister retires later this week. His last Council meeting is Mar. 27.
by Colin Smith
As Andy Isbister retires as Chief Administrative Officer of Morinville, he’s confident that his successor will be managing a town that is in great shape and has a bright future ahead of it.
Speaking to Morinville News during his last week at the civic offices, Isbister noted that his working life had extended to 10 weeks short of 47 years.
“It was time” to retire, he said.
Born and bred in Lethbridge, Isbister began his career with the Royal Bank, working in accounting in small towns around the province for 12 years.
Then in 1989, he started with Fort Saskatchewan Catholic School Board, beginning a school board career that spanned 21 years, finishing at the Edmonton Catholic School Board.
“I retired at 55,” Isbister said. “That lasted six months. Then I had the opportunity to come and work for the Town of Morinville.
Isbister, who is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Management Accountant, started as Director of Financial Services in late 2009, then two years ago took on the position of CAO.
“It’s been a great two years, for sure,” he said. “Councils I have worked with have been forward looking.
“I’d really like to thank this council and previous councils and boards of trustees for strong commitment to me and all the staff. There’s been great support all the time I’ve worked for the town.”
Morinville has experienced significant growth since Isbister came on the scene.
“When I came, the population was 7,600, and the population now will be over 10,000. In less than 10 years that is pretty significant growth – 33 per cent.”
He sees it as a major accomplishment being able to successfully manage that growth.
“We have continued to have growth in the community while lessening the tax burden on residents,” he said. “We don’t have the lowest taxes, but we don’t have the highest either.”
“We’re [also] one of the communities that has equalized the tax rates for residential and non-residential. We’ve seen some growth in non-residential over the past couple of year.
Another plus for Isbister has been working with council on the new rec centre and arena project.
“Reports from our builder are that it continues to be on budget and on time.”
Isbister says that in some ways he would like to stick around for the completion, but “that would be another two years and you have to call it quits some time.”
Asked about challenges he faced as CAO, Isbister declared he looked at challenges more as opportunities.
“Anytime we were going through an economic downturn, we had to make sure we pulled in our belts,” he did point out. “We budgeted for deficits but never had one. The staff are great – they treat every dollar as if it was their own.”
Isbister sees excellent future prospects for Morinville.
“The stars have aligned for Morinville,” he said. “It’s the right place at the right time. Over the next five to 10 years I see the population growing to 13,000 to 15,000 people. I think we’ll see real economic growth.”
The two schools being provided by the provincial government will help the community to cope, he added.
Isbister said key to growth for Morinville has been involvement with the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board and the recently formed Edmonton Global, a regional economic development company that brings together 15 communities.
Also contributing to its success are good relationships with the Alexander First Nation, CFB Edmonton and Sturgeon County.
A possible increase in traffic is just about the only downside to future growth in Morinville that the former CAO foresees.
“When we look at the community as a whole we are prepared to grow to a community of 35,000. We’re serviced for that number of people, with perhaps the addition of some infrastructure.
“We haven’t seen growth in crime,” he added. “It’s still got that small town feeling and I don’t see that changing.”
Managing Morinville’s continued growth will now be the task of incoming CAO Stephane Labonne.
“He does have a great staff,” said Isbister. “They made my job relatively easy. He will want to continue to use those people to the best of his ability.
As for Isbister, he plans to play more golf more than the eight rounds a year he’s been typically managing to get in. He and his wife will also be doing more travelling and get a chance to use their holiday trailer more, perhaps taking it down to the U.S. this coming summer.
“I’ve been involved with school boards and municipal government for 28 years. That’s an awful lot of evening meetings,” he said. “I’m pretty sure my wife will be happy to see me home every night instead of having to go to another meeting.”
Isbister’s last Council meeting will be Mar. 27.