City of Lacombe Mayor Grant Creasey does see some positive results in a year that he said had “tumultuous” times.
The year of 2019 featured many positive steps for the city of Lacombe, including hosting Hometown Hockey early in the year and the Allan Cup at the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex which saw the AAA Lacombe Generals with their fourthth cup, along with some difficulties including decisions made regarding regional partnerships and challenges in terms of the provincial budget.
The City of Lacombe was forced to raise taxes by 1 per cent after initially committing to a 0.9 per cent increase.
The change was result of provincial budget cuts which also limited the budgets of the Lacombe Police Service and Lacombe and District FCSS services.
Creasey said the first heard of the budget cuts early on, which allowed them to prepare but the provincial budget announcements made during the municipal budget process caught them off guard.
“That makes it challenging and confusing for council, which ends up translating to a lot of confusion for the public. It really adds to the workload of administration for not a lot of benefit, which makes it difficult,” he said.
Creasey said the City is a willing partner with province but admits there is likely more financial pain to come.
“I think we are in for another year of adjustments we would prefer not to deal with,” he said.
The City currently has two needed capital projects in their 10-year plan, one being a $5 million public works facility which will begin being planned in 2020; and a $4.5 million to $6.5 million new fire services facility. Both projects are at least in part require provincial funding, but Creasey said the city is in position to be flexible if MSI funding is pulled.
“They may have to be stretched over a longer period of time or not implemented as soon as we like,” he said.
Creasey said it was not an easy decision to leave the Bolt Transportation System, but it was made with the citizens of Lacombe in mind
“We took bold steps and decided to move on. We aren’t turning our back on public transportation,” he said.
The most difficult part for Creasey was having to make a choice they knew would affect their regional partners in Blackfalds.
“We knew it would affect our partners in Blackfalds, however council and my own first priority is to the good of Lacombe citizens. In this case, those two didn’t align. It is unfortunate but it is reality,” he said.
The City of Lacombe chose to cancel curbside recycling pickup after a price hike and international forces left the current system untenable.
The problem with recycling now is that it is not about collection or consolidation of the waste — it is how it is dealt with afterwards. That has not been positive and there are extremely little items that are genuinely utilized in a sustainable, responsible manner,” Creasey said.
To help deal with waste in general, the City will be undertaking a solid waste review early in the new year.
“I am looking forward to seeing the final results. I don’t expect there to be a lot of specific ideas tailored towards recycling, but I am certainly open to it if there is,” he said.
Creasey, who has been researching alternative forms of waste disposal for several years, said this is a huge issue for municipalities like Lacombe.
“I have taken some steps to work with our regional partners and our provincial government to spur on some changes in that regard but that is a big ship to steer and it is taking a little longer than what I anticipated,” he said.
North Red Deer Regional Wastewater Services Commission
One of the more positive collaborations for the city was the North Red Deer Regional Wastewater Services Commission, which connects the Red Deer wastewater system with Lacombe and Blackfalds, winning several awards for the large-scale regional project.
The project received an American Public Works Award for Project of the Year and, more importantly for Creasey, an Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) award.
“That award is not handed out every year, it is specifically based on projects of merit,” he said. “To receive that one speaks highly to the collaboration and efforts put in by all of the partners.
“It will serve the entire central area for well into the future. I expect 50 years or more.”
Creasey oultined several projects the city is currently involved with as important for the future commercial growth of the city including an outflow project for Henner’s Pond,
“It will allow the Charis group to carry on with the work that has been started there. That project is moving ahead on schedule and is a great benefit to Lacombe and area seniors as alternative age-in-place structure,” Creasey said.
The mayor also outlined Midway Centre and Lacombe Market Square (LMS) as two crucial developments the city has developed infrastructure for.
Midway is currently well underway and LMS, which the city assisted financially on for a title change, will have news in the new year.
”We look forward to a build there in the near future,” he said.
2020 and beyond
Creasey said he is thankful for a council that can disagree and still come up with solutions that benefit Lacombe and an administration that works hard.
“This is a city, but it is still a rural community. As mayor, I get to know the vast majority of the our employees and I am proud of the work they do,” he said.
Going forward, Creasey hopes those positive relationships will help work with a community that is facing job and business losses due to a struggling economy.
“There are an awful lot of people who are struggling and not better off than they were previous. That is unfortunate and it is one of the factors why we made some of the choices on council that we did in keeping tax adjustments low at 1 per cent,” he said, attributing some of the struggles in Alberta to the federal government.
Creasey believes free-enterprise capitalism will still be able to create opportunities in a struggling economy.
“We are at a time now where it is creating other opportunities as opposed to when the economy is looking upwards during boom times,” he said.
Despite his belief in free enterprise, Creasey believes the city can help business by cutting red tape like the time it takes for develop permits to process, encouraging entrepreneurs and connecting them with like-minded individuals; and also providing grants where appropriate to certain businesses.
“We will continue to do so and operate within our means. There are no magic bullets to help business, but we will continue to be creative as we can and we look forward to helping our business community in any way we can,” he said.
Despite the sometimes tumultuous year, Creasey believes the City of Lacombe has been able to to cope with the issues well.
“We will continue to do so in a positive manner and make the best of what has been a challenging year municipally and for the province as well,” he said.