By Cole Parkinson
As the Municipal District of Taber council shifts focus to 2019 ventures, it allows a chance to review 2018 work and also evaluate what’s to come in the new year.
With Merrill Harris taking over as M.D. reeve this past October, his time at the helm of the ship has been limited though he has been on M.D. council since 2013 as the Division 1 councillor.
As snow was a major force throughout the winter from late 2017 into early 2018, Harris was happy with the effort put into keeping the roads cleared.
“Our staff did a marvellous job in keeping the roads open at this time last year. The snow and wind didn’t seem to stop and we have many miles of roads to keep open. It seemed that the roads got opened and then the wind blew and plugged them full again. Our snow plow operators and grader operators put in many, many hours trying to keep the roads open. As springtime approached we literally went from snow plowing to flooding and pumping water in a matter of a week to ten days,” he said.
One of the biggest issues facing the M.D. in 2018 was overland flooding which happened throughout most of the spring.
The flooding not only caused a local state of emergency but also a huge commitment from everyone at the M.D. to help tackle any flooding-related problems.
“Unfortunately, some homes received flood water damage, some roads were washed out, canals were running to the brim with flood waters and everyone did what they could to keep damage to a minimum. The flood event lasted for over six weeks, our personnel were tired and sleepy from the many, many hours they put in but they kept at it until the flood was over. We have a great admin team who manned the emergency operations centre, great public works and ag services staff who helped in the field pumping water from hotspots or flood spots. Absolutely everyone did what they could to minimize the effects to residents, landowners and infrastructure,” explained Harris.
Another crucial piece to the mitigation came in the form of the M.D.’s emergency services which consists of fire departments and their community peace officer program.
With all hands on deck during the flooding, council was extremely happy with the work done during and after the event.
“Our fire department used some of the skills they had learned in rescuing some people from their homes in the the middle of the flood events. Our CPO’s also provided valuable assistance in maintaining closed roads and assisting wherever they were needed. Then came the fixing, staff had all the roads usable within a few months, which is incredible for the amount of road damage there was. We hired contractors for some projects so we could get these projects completed in a decent amount of time,” stated Harris.
Last year also saw the opening of the M.D.’s new operations and maintenance facility on Highway 3 between Taber and Barnwell.
Planning was first initiated in 2013 for the $7.4 million building and is 33,536 square-feet in size on a 17-acre compound with a shop size of 2,319 feet.
“We opened up our new operations and maintenance facility west of Taber in August and much of what went on in our old shops on the north end of town now has moved to the new campus site. This is a state of the art facility that will last the M.D. for 100 years,” added Harris.
Coming up quickly in 2019 is a provincial election which could see some changes in power. With that in mind, the M.D. is prepared for anything moving forward whether it sees the NDP back in power or another party taking over.
“You never know what a provincial election will bring, what a new government will do if elected, what the existing government will do if re-elected.”
Harris also touched on a variety of questions the election may bring to the municipality.
“Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding is a big concern for the M.D. Will this funding continue? At present, it provides us with about $2.3 million per year which we use in our municipal road projects. What will our finances look like if we lose that funding whether it be all lost, partially lost or maintained at its existing funding level? The province has taken over the Designated Industrial Property (DIP) assessment function that our own assessors did. What will happen to our assessment base? What impacts will the continued downturn in the oil and gas sector have on that assessment base? How can we maintain the level of service that the M.D. has been providing with less tax revenue because of the loss of the assessment base? What will the government of the day do to bring their fiscal house into order? How much downloading of services will take place and what impact that downloading will have on the M.D.?”
Even with those questions coming up, Reeve Harris is hoping to bring much of the same to 2019 as 2018 when it comes to everyday M.D. services.
“My goal for the year is to keep up the same level of service that we have been providing to M.D. residents and businesses, continue to promote the M.D. as a great place to live, a great place to set up your business and a great place to grow crops that feed the world. We can do so much here that can’t be done in other areas because we have access to a good supply of water. We have a good working relationship with all three irrigation districts within the M.D., and we work together to make this a great place to call home. Our council’s goal is to continue to be fiscally responsible, maintain service levels and look for ways to grow and promote our area,” he said.
While the M.D. is hoping to keep the level of service steady in 2019, that doesn’t mean there will be some changes throughout the municipality.
The new year affords them plenty of projects that will see a start throughout the year.
“We have a number of projects on the go that we hope to see get going this year. Two of them are drainage related. A drainage issue south of the SMRID (St. Mary River Irrigation District) main canal has received funding from the Community Resiliency Program, so we can move that one ahead now. Another is the regional stormwater management plan that has been worked on since 2012. We have now got some possible funding for that project so we are going to be working with our partners across southern Alberta to see how this one can get moving ahead. If we had had this project done and in place, last springs floods would have looked a lot different, especially the SMRID main canal nearly breaching south of Grassy Lake. Much of that water would have been diverted to the river using Taber Irrigation District’s canal system,” continued Harris.
In terms of council happenings, Harris states they are continuing to be open and accessible to all residents within the M.D.
He encourages anyone with issues to contact their Division councillor.
“As a council, we have made it a priority to be open, accessible, transparent in all we do. We welcome calls of concern about issues that ratepayers have. We encourage all ratepayers to attend our annual general meeting which will be held in April, to get an update on municipal operations,” said Harris. “Council has numerous questions that we would like ratepayer’s feedback on, so we hope that many will attend this meeting and provide that feedback.”