Resident Information Q&A

Sturgeon County Council held a Special Council Meeting on February 6, 2017 to hear from a concerned group of residents "Sturgeon United Residents for Effective Accountable Leadership" (Sureal). Issues identified by the group were regarding taxes, leadership and spending priorities.

During the special meeting, additional questions came forth and were compiled. These questions are addressed below in a follow-up message from Council. Should you have any further questions, please contact your area Councilllor or Mayor Flynn.


Taxes

Sureal issue: Over the past 3 years County residents have experienced tax increases of 2% to 9% each year.

Response: Sturgeon County continues to have one of the lowest tax rates in the region. Like any municipality, adequate budgets are necessary to maintain operations to provide key services to residents. The budget includes significant investments in road infrastructure improvements, capital drainage works, bridge repair, machinery and fleet; and water and wastewater utilities. 

  • 2017 - 1.315% Budget focused on delivering value to residents while minimizing impacts. A portion of this modest increase was dedicated to addressing legacy capital projects such as roads and drainage.
  • 2016 - 2.01% Enhanced Protective Services, increased recreation funding to towns, placed a strong focus on traffic mitigation measures in the Heartland area and of course to reduce debt costs.
  • 2015 - 8.55% This budget helped fund/manage drainage legacy issues, prioritize planning, and reinforce long term sustainability for the County.
  • 2014 - 4.28% Council allocated majority of capital funding to local roads infrastructure, daytime fire services and support to West Country Hearth.
  • 2013 - 4.68% Increase was required to balance the budget for 2013. Budget aligned with Strategic Plan approved by prior Council.

Effective & Accountable Leadership and Administration

 

A. County Council

Sureal issue: Is Council or Senior Administration determining the overall direction and policies of the County?

Response: Staff and budgets adjustments are necessary to address new projects and to replace infrastructure such as the following but not limited to:

  • Industrial Projects - Pembina/NWR
  • Road maintenance activities
  • Inter-municipal affairs (Advocacy)
  • Drainage Activities
  • Namao Fire Hall
  • Reservoir /Lift Stations

Sureal issue: Why did Council extend the CAO’s contract for six years beyond the current Council’s mandate?

Response: Council is satisfied with developments under the CAO’s leadership, he has seen us through many important Council guided initiatives and provides continued stability to the organization. We have confidence in his leadership and oversight of a committed municipal staff, strong management of Council’s agenda and of relationships with residents, developers and industry. There is no incremental cost to the organization by extending the CAO term.

 

B. County Administration

Sureal issue: Over the past several years, County staff and financial budgets have increased by more than 50%, while the borders of the County, population and number of residences have remained constant.

Response: Budget adjustments are necessary to maintain operations and existing service. In order that Sturgeon County maintains levels of service, (i.e roads, water, community programs, firefighting, industrial development) Only Council can consider and approve staff positions during the budget process. Budget and staffing costs have increased approximately 39.6% over the last five (5) years. Positions were filled to meet growth and service levels including, but not limited to:

  • 3 Firefighters; 1 Peace Officer
  • 2 Industrial Assessors
  • Senior Utility Planning Engineer/Senior Projects Officers
  • Road Use Agreement Coordinator
  • Gravel Road Maintenance Positions (2.5 in 2017 alone)
  • Grader Operators; Resident Call-Back Clerk
  • Accountant

Spending Priorities

Roads

Sureal issue: The County’s 2016 road building (ditch pull) program was a disaster. 2017 Budget shows no sale of equipment and increase of 2.5 Operators, although no roadbuilding?

Response: Council recognizes that there is more work to be done and great improvements need to be made in the area of roads. That require adjustments to both budget and staff to make continuous improvements. In 2016, we undertook a major public engagement effort called “Let’s Talk Roads” campaign which gathered feedback from over 1800 residents through a survey and public meetings. As a result, Sturgeon County Council has initiated several program improvements. The Sustainable Roads Improvement Strategy (SRIS) project to improve our road maintenance practices. A condition assessment of every road in Sturgeon County has been undertaken by an unbiased, independent contractor and improvement plans are being developed for 2017 implementation. In November, Council committed to a ten-year plan to improve 128 km of local gravel roads by way of external contractors. Council also approved more money for Bridge Maintenance and Drainage capital projects. Staffing and equipment needs will be determined during 2017.

County Campus

Sureal issue: The CAO and current Council are in the process of approving construction of Phase 1: “Operations Building and Public Works Yard” with no input from County residents. Phases 2 & 3 involve a “Fleet Shop and Administration Building"

Response: The future County Campus is a long-term plan spanning over the last three Councils and has been reflected in multiple Corporate Business Plans and subject of a number of community meetings. To date, only joint site servicing with Town of Morinville is underway. However, Council has not committed to any building construction at this time and has directed Administration to not move ahead with the detailed design phase of the County Campus, and to re-negotiate leases and potential for maximizing current space. Council is committed to pursuing further input with residents in the future on this important project.

Regional Recreation Facility

Sureal issue: The County’s lack of commitment and involvement with the development of a Regional Recreation Facility shows a disconnect from resident’s recreational needs as demonstrated by development of such facilities (i.e. Tri-leisure Centre, Millennium Place) in all similar communities in the Capital Region. To date Council has refused to engage the County as a full partner ma Regional Recreation Facility including a new ice Arena despite 40% of the patrons coming from the surrounding County.

Response: Sturgeon County has been a good partner, we have jointly pursued and achieved adjacent lands, servicing strategies and grants. We continue to work together, have jointly funded research and have agreed to develop a Joint Business Case to evaluate the cost and viability of the Regional Recreation Facility for County residents. Three Councillors represent Sturgeon County on a sub-committee that will bring forward a recommendation to Council. Council is committed to engaging the community before making any decisions around these major investments.

 


Additional Questions from the Feb. 6 Meeting

Message #2 from Sturgeon County Mayor & Council

Sturgeon County Council held a Special Council Meeting on February 6, 2017, at the request of a concerned group of residents “Sturgeon United Residents for Effective Accountable Leadership”

The Special Council Meeting format ensured transparency and that all residents would be heard. Council provided a full-page newspaper response on February 21 & 22 to the issues identified prior to the meeting. In addition, Council is now following through on its commitment to answer questions from the public that arose at the Special Meeting.


Question: Time of Council meetings

Response: In February 2016, Council directed Administration to provide further information regarding the financial impact, staff implications and live broadcast statistics to support of a decision regarding whether to change the time of Council meetings. Following Council’s review of the report, Council unanimously voted to continue with daytime meetings (Motion 049/16 on February 9, 2016). The County has been continuously working toward increased public transparency and offering the public opportunities to be engaged in and informed of decisions being made.


Question: Condition of Township Road 564

Response: TWP 564 is in good driving condition. The paved section of TWP 564 requires maintenance. Patching of pot holes on TWP 564 will occur in 2017. This road is scheduled for complete rehabilitation in 2018.


Question: Range road 572 – too narrow in places. Shoulders too soft.

Response: TWP Road 572 is scheduled for construction/widening during 2017-2018. Phase 1 of this project will go out to tender in March. At this time paving is scheduled for 2019. This road will be designed and constructed to bring the road up to the required standard.


Question: Growth plan – working with City of Edmonton and City of St. Albert.

Response: As mandated by the Provincial Government, the Capital Region Board was charged with updating the Growth Plan during 2015/16. The updated Plan was approved by the Board in December of 2016, and is awaiting approval by the Provincial Government. The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Growth Plan is a statutory document with which all Municipal Development Plans (MDPs) and Area Structure Plans (ASPs) must comply.

The Plan also sets neighbourhood density targets and has policies related to Country Residential Development. In short, this Plan, if approved by the Province, will influence future development across the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, including Sturgeon County. The Plan recognizes the Sturgeon Valley as a unique area, given its proximity to Edmonton and St. Albert, the services it has, and the density and natural land features it possesses.

Given these dynamics, the Plan classifies the Valley as a ‘Special Study Area’ requiring further study. This effort is being led by Sturgeon County and supported by the Cities of Edmonton and St. Albert. The intent is to have Board adoption of the results of the tri-party work in mid 2017.


Question: CAO Contract Term and Salary

Response: Employment matters, and specifically the CAO contract details are confidential. Mayor Flynn’s comments from the February 6th Special Meeting are well reported in the February 14th Morinville Free Press (page posted with permission). Council makes decisions regarding the CAO’s compensation based on an annual salary comparison with 10 similar municipalities. While Sturgeon County’s compensation philosophy is to pay at the 75th Percentile in a very competitive market, the current CAO compensation falls short, at below the 70th percentile. It is in the organization’s best interest to retain a competent CAO, in order to maintain continuity and stability.

  The CAO contract was due to expire six months after this year’s municipal elections. When Council saw that Parkland County, Leduc County, Fort Saskatchewan, St. Albert and the City of Edmonton were all in the search of new CAOs Council took action to secure their current and very competent CAO. There is no incremental cost to the organization by extending the CAO term.


Question: Why is the transportation department adding 2.5 staff and the County is getting out of business of building roads?

Response: The Transportation Department did not fill positions previously engaged in Local Road Reconstruction work during 2016. These positions were in fact removed from the recommended 2017 budget approved by Council. This was as a result of Council’s decision to contract out the construction of local gravel roads in the future.

In 2016, the Transportation Department piloted the use of a floater grader operator responsible for operator training, vacation coverage, addressing high maintenance and high risk areas, gravel recovery and advancing the crowning of gravel roads through enhanced road maintenance. This was an effective way to address an additional 30 km of gravel roadways. Transportation also implemented added inspection and piloted improved gravel supply and hauling signage, gravel quality control and assurance, flagging and communication with residents through door knockers. Both pilots required a considerable amount of additional work and were very well received by the public and by Council.


Question: How does Sturgeon County recruit grader operators and see to their level of skill?

Response: Grader operators are recruited from the open market with qualifications specified in the recruitment advertisements. A small group of staff members led by Human Resources, interview potential candidates and select an individual for a position based on screening and qualifications. New operators are observed, receive coaching from supervisory staff and mentoring by the most experienced grader operators.

All positions are subject to a probationary period. Sturgeon County’s grader operators are highly skilled operators, some of whom have recognized industry Road Grader trainer qualifications and have been operating graders for 30 years with the average being 14 years. In the fall of 2016, Sturgeon County inspected the condition of each gravel road and recorded the crown. Operators are now evaluated not only on the frequency of grading, but also their ability to maintain (and where necessary re-establish) the crown, a key factor in road quality.


Question: Whose responsibility is it for lights by the refinery by Hwy 37 and 643? What is going to happen in the future?

Response: The intersection at HWY 643 and HWY 825 is part of the provincial transportation network. Sturgeon County has advocated with and on behalf of industry for signalization of the intersection at HWY 643 and HWY 825/Opal Road since 2011. This included working with industry to develop a Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) study that was submitted to and recently accepted by Alberta Transportation (AT).

Council also pursued and received a $1M grant from the Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Land Trust Society to address this major quality of life impact on residents at HWY 643 at HWY 825, in the Heartland industrial area. While signalization of the intersection was not in the Alberta Transportation three year plan, Alberta Transportation has agreed to allow Sturgeon County to project manage signalization of the intersection, using the $1M grant, in coordination with signalization at HWY 28A and widening of HWY 825. Installation of traffic signalization is planned for this year.

While it premature to say when this work will be completed, Sturgeon County staff are already addressing this unique opportunity to upgrade the Provincial transportation network. We expect to see dirt move by summer.


Question: Inter-municipal Collaboration Frameworks (ICF), how these may work 

Response: As part of the Modernized Municipal Government Act, the Inter-municipal Collaboration Agreements are intended to provide neighbouring municipalities a framework within which to work together, in particular the identification of shared services and development of cost-sharing approaches. Legislation broadly defines ICFs as addressing any service benefitting residents from more than one municipality.

Sturgeon County currently enjoys numerous agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions in ICF areas such as transportation, water and wastewater, solid waste, emergency services, recreation, etc. The negotiating of ICF’s may identify even more opportunities to collaborate and share costs.


Question: Work load created by CRB, MMA, GOA, downloads such as bridge funding.

Response: The call for collaboration has seen Sturgeon County Council and staff invest significantly in regional and inter-municipal relationships with neighboring municipalities. Participation in the CRB is not optional. Sturgeon County significantly influenced the regional agenda through both elected and administrative representatives.

Council directed the Mayor and CAO to be involved in the Metro Mayors Alliance that was pursuing a high functioning and more competitive region. Council determined it was important to be “at the table”. We continue to work with Metro Mayors Alliance to build regional systems in three critical areas: economic development; public transit; land use and infrastructure. By working together and acting as one region we can more effectively build a globally competitive Region. Sturgeon County has also developed a comprehensive Advocacy Plan to advance Council’s Business Plan.

 Central in this effort is advocacy to the Government of Alberta in areas such as transportation infrastructure improvements and reliable provincial funding, inter-municipal collaboration and influencing the Modernized MGA project. During the 2016 Year in Review Reporting (February 14), 26 of 28 Advocacy Priorities were reported as either Complete or On Track. Two were On Hold based on delays in expected timing of provincial Regulations dealing with Growth Management Boards and Community Aggregate Levy. In 2016, 100% of Council’s Resolutions were approved by AAMDC at the Pembina Zone. In addition, 81% of Council Positions were adopted by AAMDC. As a result, our Association is now pursuing these priorities with the province on behalf of all Counties, not just Sturgeon County.


Question: Better communication of details in Capital Budget Plan

Response: For the second year, Sturgeon County has produced a detailed Operating & Capital Budget document. The document is intended to provide Council and the residents of Sturgeon County the details and factors that will influence the fiscal capacity of Sturgeon County as the Operating and Capital Budgets are developed.

A complete overview of the budget, services and operations, and the resources that fund these services is provided in an easy to read manner. The Operating & Capital Budget document can be viewed at sturgeoncounty.ca. Major progress reporting on the Capital Program is presented tri-annually in June October and February.


Question: Plans to get Range Roads into a better condition.

Response: Sturgeon County has initiated $80 Million in road improvements to be constructed over 2017 to 2019. Sturgeon County Transportation Services maintains 300 km of paved/hard-surface roads and 1500 km of gravel roads. As part of the 2017 Capital Budget, Council approved a workplan to increase both the rehabilitation of existing roads, and paving of new roads as revenue from the Northwest Sturgeon Refinery becomes available as early as 2018. There will be no direct tax increase to undertake this initiative.