by Colin Smith
Morinville, along with Alberta’s other municipalities, will be holding an election for Council on October 18, 2021 and nominations for the positions of Mayor and Councillors have already opened. With that in mind Morinville Online has approached present Council members about whether they will be standing for re-election this fall ands their views on what they feel has been accomplished and ongoing and future issues.
The responses to our questions are lead off by Mayor Barry Turner, followed by current Deputy Mayor Sarah Hall, followed by the Councillors in alphabetical order.
Q: What do you feel biggest challenge for the upcoming council will be?
Mayor Barry Turner: Continuing the path to long-term financial sustainability will be Council’s biggest challenge. Work to bring both residential and non-residential rates to the median in the region is absolutely necessary to ensure sustainability into the future. From a residential standpoint, tax rates are high when compared to other communities in the region and this needs to change. From a non-residential standpoint, taxes are low compared to other communities in the region. Finding the right balance is key to ensuring revenues will support a thriving community, while taxation is comparable to other communities.
Deputy Mayor Sarah Hall: I feel that an issue we inherited, balancing our tax-supported deficit, will also be this next Councils’ burden to mitigate. When this Council first started, we prioritized balancing our budget, a task that is easier said then done, especially when factoring in the operational costs of the MLC, and then navigating downturns in the economy and a global pandemic.
Councillor Rebecca Balanko: A big challenge will be will be the recovery after COVID, with so many residents without work or having reduced income to accommodate their families. Others will be paying down our debts and the need for space for both the RCMP and Town Office. We are growing and our Town needs to grow too. I also feel our traffic (Provincial Highway) and shared use/interest for shared benefit concerns will be tough battles for the upcoming Council.
Another key challenge will be the continuing work as a member of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB). This work has and will continue to bring all of the municipalities in the EMRB together to share services, address regional land-use, and realize efficiencies through collaboration.
Councillor Stephen Dafoe: I think many challenges face the next Council. Figuring out how to do as much as possible with increasingly fewer federal and provincial dollars and swallowing the hard pill that we can no longer afford to be all things to all people are two significant fiscal challenges. Also, I think the next Council needs to address sharing resources regionally to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. More focus at the subregional level rather than the Edmonton region needs examination.
Councillor Lawrence Giffin: One of the biggest challenges for the new council is one that this council has struggled with. That is trying to attract economic development during a downturn. We need good paying jobs in the area. However, a good foundation has been built and I feel that Morinville will steadily improve its industrial and commercial base.
Councillor Scott Richardson: Sustainable spending. It was one of the biggest challenges this council had and will continue to be for the next. Managing growth. The Town of Morinville has grown and is growing. With growth comes growing pains. How do we fund utilities and infrastructure improvements and new projects while ensuring spending is sustainable. Creating a balanced budget without decreasing services and overtaxing residents and nonresidents
If elected to the next council, what do you most hope to achieve during your term?
Mayor Barry Turner: Again, any achievements would be the work of the entire Council. Major goals would be to bring residential taxes down to the median in the region where they belong. Also important is to begin planning on next phase of MLC. I have also spent a lot of time this term meeting with local groups and organizations and a key goal would be to focus on bringing our not-for-profit community together to ensure mutual sustainability. In order to achieve the highest quality of life at the lowest cost to residents it will be important to activate all resources in the community.
Deputy Mayor Sarah Hall: I would like to continue to work on creating a more collaborative and robust social services sector. We have many, many organizations that work hard every day to make Morinville residents feel safe, and ensure they have access to the resources and connection they need to survive and thrive. I believe that the pandemic has created a greater need for families and individuals, socially, mentally and financially. These issues will need a coordinated effort to help mitigate and be effective.
Councillor Rebecca Balanko: Identifying needs versus wants. We continue to grow, but I feel concerned as our staffing levels have increased by over 300%. I have always been a saver. I have an extensive background in disaster management and see the importance of planning ahead, saving for the sky-is-falling scenario, and the value in being able to redirect. Our staff work very hard and I know they have just gone through a restructuring, but this comes at a significant cost to our taxpayer residents. Our cost of living is high in Town and we can’t offload our wants on to the community. COVID has shown us where our deficiencies are and what we do well, also what we can do without.
Councillor Stephen Dafoe: If I were to run next term, I’d like to ensure we restore the sense of community that drew people here in the first place. As the Town grows, that becomes a more significant challenge and risk. It may seem like an insignificant thing, but that sense of community supports community engagement, economic viability, volunteerism, and more residents feeling like they have a role to play in the local government’s decision making.
Councillor Lawrence Giffin: If I run, I would like to encourage the town to annex land from Sturgeon County. As I have said, one of the biggest issues facing Morinville is the lack of local good paying jobs. To address this issue, we need to attract light industry. This is very difficult given that we do not have sufficient land to accommodate it. We need land that has access to the highway and railway.
Councillor Scott Richardson: I would continue to advocate for reducing spending in all areas of the budget. I will continue to advocate for residents and businesses in Morinville and keep Administration accountable for the wants and needs of the people of the community.
I would like to achieve a balanced budget from nonresidential/ residential growth, reducing spending and having Sturgeon Country pay an equitable share for the services they use, not by taxing people to the breaking point
What do you think council’s major priority should be during its term?
Mayor Barry Turner: A key priority is Community Safety. As we continue to grow, traffic and pedestrian safety has and will become increasingly important. This term Council will complete some important work to establish priorities for addressing this and set the future Council up for success with a clear path forward.
Additionally, the priority to eliminate the tax-supported deficit must be first and foremost. An annual tax-supported budget deficit cannot continue. In order to achieve this taxation levels, user fees and alternative revenue sources must all evaluated to ensure long-term sustainability. A key way to meet this goal will be to ensure taxes are equitable for both residential and non-residential property and a return to split mill rates that are comparable to other urban municipalities in the region. This will reduce upward pressure on residential rates and realize more revenue to eliminate the deficit.
Deputy Mayor Sarah Hall: I believe the major priority should be both balancing the tax-supported deficit and working towards a more robust social services sector.
Councillor Rebecca Balanko: Lowering our debt! We need to get better at living within our means. We need to grow and do so without hiking taxes. Residents haven’t had a cost of living increase, but living and basic needs have grown exponentially.
Councillor Nicole Boutestein: After the 2017 election, each Councillor brought their priorities to the table and it didn’t take long to see that collectively we were all on the same page: community safety, residential and non-residential taxes, new growth (business and residential), service levels, infrastructure, community and regional partnerships just to name a few. Personally, I feel these priorities aren’t just important today but will always continue to be a focus. Another major priority was the construction, budget and timeline of the new MLC.
Council also unanimously approved our Strategic Plan, which reflects Council’s collective priorities. Even though we are currently working on these, we still need to focus on the pandemic and the impact it’s having on our community.
Councillor Stephen Dafoe: I think the Council’s major priority out of the gate needs to be to set its strategic planning in a real and tangible way. The ball was dropped on that, in my opinion, this term. We talked about it, made a list, revisited it, and finally sat down in the third year and put something substantial in place with Councillors taking on committee roles to drive that plan. Without a strat plan, there is no business plan, and both inform the budget.
Councillor Lawrence Giffin: I ran on a platform of economic development. We need jobs and we need to diversify our tax base. People who live and work in Morinville will shop in Morinville. Without those base jobs, we will never have a robust commercial base. This affects everything from the services that are available, both commercial and social, to the residential and nonresidential tax rate.
Councillor Scott Richardson: Non-residential and residential growth, reducing spending and finding efficiencies with Sturgeon County, with ICF discussions and having Sturgeon Country pay equitable share for the services they use, including but not limited to policing and recreation.
Part 4 of this series will run tomorrow and look at social media, consultants and split mil rates.