By Trevor Busch
With 2019 proving to be a year of challenges for municipalities in Alberta, Mayor Andrew Prokop is hopeful of a prosperous 2020 for Taber.
Reflecting back on some of the achievements for the Town of Taber in the previous year, Prokop singled out the new emergency services building under construction on 49th Avenue for special recognition.
“Construction started in July, and I believe it is scheduled for roughly June for a completion date, assuming things continue to go smoothly. That was roughly a $3 million total. So that’s still ongoing, and a big project to be completed in 2020.”
There were also major improvements at the water treatment and BNR plants.
“There was an upgrade for our water quality,” said Prokop. “That was a new $400,000 generator upgrade at the water treatment plant, for the enhanced water quality we all enjoy on a regular basis. The BNR plant — the biological nutrient removal system — there was a primary and secondary clarifier rebuild, for effluent enhancement. That was a $225,000 upgrade. Again, these things are kind of unseen, but we get to benefit as a result of these new upgrades there.”
While experiencing some organizational hiccups early on, the construction of a fourth ball diamond at Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park should be finalized in 2020.
“That was a $150,000 build. It’s not quite completed but scheduled to be completed this summer. There’s some finishing touches to be done there. So that’s coming together. I haven’t been out there for a while, but it was looking good,” said Prokop.
Big funding cuts at the provincial level in 2019 had municipalities scrambling to reassess priorities for their capital and operating budgets.
“Fiscal restraints are in place across the province, it effects all of us,” said Prokop. “We’re trying to take all this in and put it in the proper perspective, but still go (forward) with priorities. We’ve dealt with some capital projects that were scheduled for 2020, now moved to 2021 because the monies aren’t quite as available. Particularly the MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) funding is now changed, and is only going to be less for each municipality. We’re all in the same boat, it’s just a matter of how we deal with it.”
Although a number of cuts and postponements for 2020 capital projects were required to bring the municipality into the black, there are still a number of big ticket items remaining on the drawing board.
“The one big one is the capital project for the 56th Avenue and Highway 864 intersection,” said Prokop. “That’s about a $2 million project, and it’s just gone out to tender. There’ll be some (pedestrian) lights related, because that’s where the trail is going to cross, but no actual traffic lights. With the curb designs, there’s a turn-off lane, and of course the underground requirements, that’s the big cost. And then paving roughly half a kilometre right on 56th Avenue to tie in. It should open up that area. Right now, it’s like a goat trail. You see some vehicle traffic, but it’s really not an open road.”
Some major parking lot re-paving projects have been cut for 2020, including the Taber Community Centre, but this won’t affect ongoing asphalt maintenance.
“We’ll be doing some asphalt repairs and enhancement in some different locations like we always do, but we kind of viewed those as lower priority compared with the actual streets. We need to keep up with that on a regular basis. We don’t know how hard hit we’re going to be until spring rolls around and we can see just how much damage we’ve got to deal with. But there’s already areas that are earmarked that were problematic last year that we need to get to.”
Another program axed by the UCP could have an effect on service levels in the municipality during the summer months, according to Prokop.
“There may be some other grants — and the UCP has alluded to this also — there may be some other grants that are no longer available, that were once. We’re already seeing it. One example that just came up is the STEP (Summer Temporary Employment) program has been discontinued. I think we’re losing two spots there, and we’re trying to make that up federally, but there’s no guarantee we’re going to get that. So if that’s the case we may have to deal with a shortfall. We don’t want to reduce the level of service. Things like that are now lost, and they’re cutting, and there may be more cuts. I’m expecting more cuts, they just haven’t announced everything. The same thing federally, we don’t know what’s happening that way, either, so there could be a variety of changes.”
Fiscal austerity is rarely going to be popular with citizens, maintains Prokop. But it is sometimes necessary.
“It’s going to be difficult, I think, the next few years for all municipalities, but they’re (UCP) attempting to get that debt down to a zero balance in four years, so obviously they need to make cuts in certain areas to make that happen. It’s going to affect us all. As to how much it’s going to affect us, it remains to be seen in some ways. But whatever happens, we’re just going to have to deal with it. Looking at priorities, and what’s best all the way around, and hopefully never looking at reductions in levels of service.”
On a more positive note, in 2019 the town saw 48 new businesses swing open their doors, which included 17 home businesses. That’s up from 40 new businesses in 2018, and there were also 64 short-term business licenses issued in 2019.
“There’s a variety of new businesses, and that to me is great entrepreneurship going on out there, and people that are wiling to take those risks that are involved in any new business opportunity, and having a vision to go forward in these difficult times. When you think about that, we’re extremely lucky that those new businesses are coming forth. I think that’s what’s offsetting some of those other negatives with this tough farming year we’ve had. I’m thrilled to see people are out there willing to take that chance — it’s not just a few, it’s quite a number of people willing to do that. Do we have some businesses close? Yes, there’s a few, every year you’re going to get some of that no matter what, but we’re certainly retaining the vast majority of the ones that have opened up.”