VISION – Mayor Melodie Stol poses in the play centre room of the Abbey Master Builder Centre

2014 was a big year for the Blackfalds community

Mayor Melodie Stol looks forward to continued growth this year

According to Mayor Melodie Stol, 2014 was the biggest year of growth that Blackfalds has yet to see.

The Abbey Master Builder Centre opened its doors as a hub of community services and programs. Along with that major facility, Blackfalds opened a hotel and saw much in the way of residential and commercial development.

“2014 was the single largest year of growth in the Town of Blackfalds’ history. Over the last five to eight years, Blackfalds has done a tremendous amount of planning and saw much of that planning pay off this year,” Stol said.

“We base our decisions on planning, whether that is from our municipal sustainability plan, our capital plan or our community needs assessment. Blackfalds invested the time, money and energy into good long-term planning and it all paid off in 2014.”

Major developments in the Town included the Abbey Master Builder Centre, the launch of the Bolt regional transit system and the development of a new automated garbage collection system.

All of these projects were in planning and development for a number of years and were labelled as a need by the growing community.

According to Stol, the Bolt transit system has been a big success in a small amount of time. She said that she is surprised by the amount of ridership that the program has gained already and is looking forward to developing a solid transportation system in the Town.

Although it has been open for less than a year, the Abbey Centre has proved its worth with three awards for excellence, the most recent being the Central Alberta Economic Partnership Collaborative Community Award.

“Every year the Town of Blackfalds draws for capital and puts it in a reserve. Part of our good planning is building up the reserves at different speeds and rates for different projects, depending on how they are coming in and priority ranking from the community. Our fiscal plan is solid,” Stol said.

“In my capital plan, you don’t see the need for replacements for buildings and roads. All of the buildings and roads are fairly new so we’re lucky that way. For most things, Blackfalds has a lot of new infrastructure, so that gives us a bit of advantage and some savings.”

Blackfalds has continually grown at a rapid rate for numerous years. With that growth comes prosperity but also some challenges. Stol said some of the challenges she believes are a result of that rapid growth and include issues with a proposed regional wastewater line as well as a lack of funding for social programs.

The regional wastewater line was proposed first in 2009, with the plan of a line installed and ready for use by 2012.

In 2014, the Town still has not received adequate funding from the province to complete this line. The current wastewater line is coming close to capacity, and could potentially be at risk with the high growth rate of Blackfalds.

“The regional wastewater line is a huge cost and requires a whole funding plan that neither Blackfalds nor Lacombe could do on our own. We need the province to step up and help us with this regional plan, just like they have helped other communities. As we grow, the need for that service escalates,” Stol said.

“The other big issue with fast growth is the need for social programs that a community develops to try and bring people in and make them feel welcome. One of the areas where investment would be important for that is our Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).”

FCSS organizations offer programs such as Parent Link, peer supports, parent supports, education and information, youth development and a wide variety of other social-oriented programs.

“We do have some FCSS programs, but we have to work with other FCSS organizations  to provide them, which means we can’t enhance or grow them in any way. We have Parent Link, but it is way underutilized and under-supported.”

Stol said the funding from the province has not kept pace with the growth rate of Blackfalds since 2009, causing the Town difficulty in offering a variety of well-funded programs.

One thing the Town was hoping for in 2014 that did not come to fruition was the construction of new schools. The Town was given an announcement by the provincial government in 2013 that a new public school would be constructed, but so far, no ground has been broken. A Catholic school is also on the list to be funded.

Stol said she hopes development on these projects moves along in 2015.

“2015 is a planning year again. We’ve completed a big portion of our community needs assessment, and now we have to do another one. So we’ll be looking into where we need to go next in terms of community facilities. Parks and trail development will be a focus because that is very important to us in Blackfalds.”

2015 will also usher several new businesses into Blackfalds, including a new McDonalds restaurant, a new gas bar and another convenience store.

Citizens will see a 2% property tax increase. The funds from that will be used for a more aggressive snow removal system and to accommodate more staff working with the Town to handle the growth. The Town will also be putting funds towards paying off a debenture used to supplement income to build the Abbey Centre.

Some smaller projects will resume in 2015, including the re-development of the Town campground and a new playground in the Town.

“It comes back to a solid, efficient financial plan. We have the ability to address that debenture quickly, so we’re trying to do that. With the growth, we need more staff working with the Town to meet the needs of new residents – that two per cent property tax increase is going to help out, and we will re-evaluate that as the final assessment numbers come in.”

kmendonsa@lacombeexpress.com