by Colin Smith
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Morinville Chief Administrative Officer Stephane Labonne’s departure will result in the fulfillment of a long-term goal for him.
Labonne gave notice of his resignation on January 4 and will leave the post on February 25. He became Morinville’s CAO in March 2018.
His destination is Maple Ridge, British Columbia where he has accepted a position as the city’s General Manager of Parks, Recreation and Culture. Maple Ridge is part of Metro-Vancouver, comprising 21 municipalities and collaboratively planning and delivering regional-scale services such as transit, solid waste, housing, treatment of potable water, parks and others, to a region of 2.5 million residents.
“Since the mid-80s I have wanted to relocate to BC’s lower mainland, to enjoy the west-coast lifestyle,” Labonne told Morinville Online. “Previous opportunities were presented to me in the past to move there, but they never worked out – either personally or professionally.
“And, with my Mom’s sudden passing two years ago, COVID, and other factors including placing a priority on my health and well-being, the time is right to make a move as the stars are in alignment – hence my decision to relocate.”
Morinville Chief Administrative Officer Labonne states that he has very much enjoyed his time with the Town of Morinville, which has allowed him to grow both personally and professionally.
Among the accomplishments during that time he is most proud of are delivering the capital construction and opening of the $30.5 million Morinville Leisure Centre on time, under budget and within scope, management of the town’s response to COVID 19 and negotiating the Morinville/Sturgeon County Recreation Cost-sharing Agreement.
Others include refocusing the organization on the priority of serving the community and providing value-for-tax dollars, overseeing the development of master plans that will aid Council in planning for the future growth of the community including the Fire Services Master Plan, Transportation Master Plan and the Parks, Trails, Culture and Recreation Master Plan and rebuilding relationships with the business community and with CUPE Local 2426, including ratification of their collective agreement for the next four years.
Nothing comes to mind that he would have done differently, Labonne says, but he notes the challenges brought by COVID-19 to the community, region, province, country and internationally, have made engaging with residents and the business community more difficult than ever before.
“As such, I think administratively we’ve done our best given the circumstances,” he said. “Could we have done more? Certainly. For most of us, this is the first pandemic we’ve dealt with and as such, and like most others, we are finding our way through it as we go – always being mindful of finding a way to do the right thing. Unfortunately, some didn’t see it that way, but not everyone will agree 100% of the time.”
Reflecting on Morinville and its development, Labonne notes that resident and business expectations can provide challenges.
Those expectations are often formed or established as residents travel throughout the region and see what other communities have to offer their residents.
“Often, our residents want what others have,” he said. “Unfortunately, the cost to deliver the services that residents rely on each and every day continues to increase because of inflation and other factors, and having a small tax-base to pay for those services, such as the case for Morinville, creates even greater challenges.
“One doesn’t need to look far to see how this is playing out for families, as they see their gas bills or the cost of groceries rise exponentially. Unfortunately, the town isn’t immune to those increases, too.”
Something will need to change in the future if Morinville wishes to continue providing programs and services equivalent to those of other municipalities in the region, with a very small tax-base to work with, Labonne points out.
“Like most small urban municipalities dealing with similar issues today, there are challenging times ahead, along with some very difficult decisions needing to be made. I know council understands the challenging times ahead and is prepared to develop and implement viable and achievable plans for the future.”