Special Areas Advisory Council held their traditional fall council meeting November 26 and December 3, with the group meeting virtually in recognition of current public health restrictions. At this quarterly meeting, Advisory Council discussed the proposed 2021 budget, heard an update on 2020 financials, and reviewed the 2021 proposed road program.
The group welcomed Tracy Allard, Minister of Municipal Affairs. Virtually joining the meeting, Minister Allard shared an update on the provincial Assessment Model Review. Minister Allard highlighted how highly she values feedback from stakeholders, sharing her recent experiences consulting with municipalities throughout the province. The group discussed the importance of using community strengths to help drive local development, while still maintaining strong fiscal responsibility and strategic management. Craig Copeland and Dominique Primeau with Alberta Environment & Parks joined the group to present findings from their 2020 research project at Blood Indian Reservoir. Mr. Copeland, a Fish Culture Manager based out of Cold Lake, highlighted some of the impacts Prussian Carp are having on the reservoir, with different options for responding to the invasive species discussed. The importance of protecting the long-term viability of the reservoir as both a fishing and recreational area was highlighted by the group.
Budget discussions centered around continuing to deliver critical programs in a cost-effective and efficient manner. In April, the Board revised the 2020 budget in recognition of severe economic conditions and in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Despite significant levels of uncollected tax revenue this November (the tax deadline for Special Areas is November 15), a surplus is currently being projected for 2020 which is a result of the significant budget cuts made in April. The group highlighted the challenges expected over the next few years, including decreasing grant funding levels, increasing amounts of bad debts from industry, downward pressures on assessment and the resulting drops in taxation revenue, and the increasing demand on regional stabilization and support programs. Findings on current road program costing for the 2020 year, and 2021’s proposed road program, were presented to the group. The road recrowning program, first investigated in 2019, was again included for 2021 after being paused this past year due to budget constraints. Advisory Council recognized the value road recrowning has in addressing some challenging road conditions at significantly lower costs when compared to traditional road construction. After some discussion, the proposed road program was recommended to be taken to local road committees in early 2021 for comment and review.
The next meeting of the Special Areas Advisory Council will be held in the spring in 2021.