By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
2020 was quite the year for the County of Paintearth.
Between crashing oil prices, the threat of assessment review changes from the Province, the division in the County over proposed wind projects, and the pandemic, 2020 was not been an easy year for the County council.
Still, Reeve Stan Schulmeister is looking for positives where he can find them.
“At this point, we’re the only county that has finished their (2021) budget,” said Schulmeister in a year-end interview.
“We were able to balance (the budget) just by cutting some spending.”
In total, County of Paintearth council and administration were able to drop the overall budget by six per cent. The council budget was dropped by seven per cent, administration was dropped by three per cent, and public works was dropped by four per cent.
“We dropped a couple memberships,” said Schulmeister. “We dropped the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Red Deer River Municipal Users Group, there was some dollars saved there. We looked at every organization (we are partnered with), and they all had to have some value, or we would drop them.”
Other areas where costs were reduced is on the grader beats, with the County dropping from 10 to nine routes.
“We did eliminate a position in Public Works,” said Schulmeister. “That’s something we never like to do, but it was a position we were able (to drop) and we spread the work to the other people. It was a tough decision, but it worked, and the (employee in the position) took early retirement.”
However, just because the County has been reducing costs doesn’t mean that local municipal partnerships are being affected.
At least not yet.
“We are still maintaining our local partnerships in the community,” said Schulmeister.
“(We are still funding) fire, recreation, FCSS, the library, and STARS. We haven’t totally quit operating, just reduced our costs.”
Other positives coming out of 2020, according to Schulmeister, are the County-owned campgrounds at Huber Dam and at Burma Park.
“Our campgrounds had full usage this summer,” said Schulmeister.
“We actually made money with them. (I think) COVID-19 helped bring that on, with people staying at home and using the facilities.”
Last year did have its challenges though, for Schulmeister and the council.
The pandemic increased costs for the County, with the purchase of cleaning supplies and extra cleaning brought on by the pandemic.
The Sub-Division Appeal Board re-hearing was another cost, and an area where lessons were learned.
“We spent a pile of money. It caused divisiveness in the County, and the cost on both sides was really high,” said Schulmeister.
“It got emotions really high, but we did learn something from it. We will try and push for better communication between the people and these companies when they are looking at doing projects like this.”
As part of the increased communication, in preparation for some revision of the Land-Use Bylaw, the County hosted an in-person engagement session in the early part of the year, pre-COVID-19, looking for landowner and ratepayer input on any changes, and the second part of the engagement session was taken online via an online survey available through December of 2020.
Once the information from the survey is complete, it will be made available to the public, and then one more community engagement session is scheduled for some time in 2021 before the bylaw is reviewed.
Looking into 2021, an election year, the County of Paintearth council has some projects that they are working on.
“Looking forward, we’re still looking at, which we may be condemned for, a Halkirk grader shed in 2021, providing that it comes in where we want in the budget,” said Schulmeister.
“We’ve been approved for $200,000 from the Province on a grant program, so there’s not a whole lot coming out of the tax-payer’s pocket.”
Through the Battle River Alliance for Economic Development, Schulmesiter has been looking towards “value-added ag,” looking for foreign investment in a possible pea-protein plant in the region, along with a green-house cluster.
“Without some sort of stimulus to keep businesses going, it’ll be hard to keep people here,” said Schulmeister.
“That would be huge. It would bring families here and have other benefits to the County. We’re just looking at trying to do the best with what we’ve got.”
As previously mentioned, 2021 is an election year for the County council.
Schulmeister, in his first four-year term, isn’t sure if he’ll run again, but does see some positives to having some councillors stay on.
“I think there is some positives with keeping some of council sticking around, but if you stay too long, do you still contribute as much? I don’t know,” said Schulmesiter, before passing on some wisdom to any potential council members.
“Be careful what you say. Don’t do it for the money, you’ll be very disappointed. You’ll take a lot of heat. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’re under a magnifying glass.”
Nominations for the 2021 election cycle open the first business day in January, with the elections to take place in October.
Candidates are required to submit a $100 deposit along with their nomination paperwork.