By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
Despite a turbulent year, County of Paintearth Reeve Stan Schulmeister is looking towards the future after being acclaimed as reeve for a fourth one-year term.
During a recent interview, Schulmeister reflected on lessons learned as a municipal councillor and reeve.
“One thing we have learned is, it’s a tough job,” said Schulmeister.
“You can’t always make everyone happy all the time. At the same time, you have to be pretty careful in this business because you are being looked at through a microscope. Hopefully in the end you make more people happy than dissatisfied.”
Schulmeister received censure from the rest of council earlier this year after comments he made during a fall of 2019 council meeting where he referred to an applicant to a board as a “housewife,” and is grateful that his council still supports him as reeve.
“I do appreciate that the rest of council understands that what has gone on in the past doesn’t reflect on my ability to go forward. If they felt they would have been better served with with somebody else, I’m sure that would have come up and things would have changed.”
As part of the discipline stemming from the censure, Schulmeister was required to take sensitivity training at his own cost.
However, with the incident in the past, and one more year until election, Schulmeister and his council are looking to the future.
“I think somewhat, we look forward more than we look back,” said Schulmeister.
“One thing we did pick up with the public engagements, we’re trying to listen more to what the population in general expects, whether it’s service, keeping taxes in line, that sort of thing.
That includes looking at County budgets. With the Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding being scaled back every year, and more costs being downloaded to the counties from the provincial government, the reeve and his councillors are looking at where savings can be found.
“We have started looking very seriously at everything,” said Schulmeister.
“We’re always looking at ways of reducing spending on programs and services and keeping it in line with ratepayer expectations.”
So far, public works has been given the mandate of cutting costs where they can, and other ways to save money have been looked at.
“We’re trying to be aware of any little changes we can make.
“We’re looking at a new way of doing bridge design for instance. We can save as much as 30 per cent on some of these bridge replacements by going with this new system.”
The design Schulmeister refers to is a design an engineering company has used around Three Hills with some success. The Ag Service Board has also been directed to start lawn mowing later in the season, reducing the number of passes done on any given section in a year, saving money. Council has also been looking at cutbacks themselves.
“There’s only certain things we can cut, and council has to cut too,” said Schulmeister.
“We’re doing a lot less of these going to conferences or conventions that may or may not really contribute for us. Maybe in the future, if we get beyond this COVID thing, maybe only 50 per cent of council as opposed to all of council will go.”
Another area where council is looking at cuts includes their per diem rates, according to Schulmeister.
“There’s been discussion in cuts to our per diem’s as well, though we’re probably one of the lowest paid councils in the province,” said Schulmeister.
“Though you do set a better example if you’re willing to take a cut as well.”
Looking to the 2021 budget, Schulmeister is hopeful.
“We hope to still have a pretty good maintenance program on the roads. We are still looking (for savings), because of the changes that may still be coming,” said Schulmeister.
“We’ve been able to sharpen things up enough, we’re not directly dealing with any staffing cuts for the coming year as far as we can see.”
As for taxes for 2021, Schulmeister and his council are hoping to not make any drastic changes.
“We’re hoping not to do a lot there, maybe a slight reduction, or a slight increase,” said Schulmeister.
“It depends a lot on the provincial policy regarding the assessment. It’s a matter of working with what we’ve got and doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”