Big decisions ahead in county, says mayor

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Growth to bring millions in new dollars

Sturgeon County will have to make big decisions next year on how to deal with some $20 million in new tax dollars from the Sturgeon Refinery, says the county’s mayor.County Mayor Tom Flynn reflected on the year that was 2016 this week with the Gazette.The weather made for challenging conditions for farmers and county staffers year-round, Flynn said. A dry spring made life tough for farmers and roads dusty for drivers, while summer and fall’s rains turned roads to mud pits and bumper crops into lost causes.“It’s not an out-and-out disaster,” Flynn said, but he estimated that about 10 per cent of this year’s harvest was still in the field, most of which was in the west of the county.“I really feel for those producers.”

Still, Flynn said he was optimistic for next year, given the amount of moisture that was now in the soil.

2016 saw a tremendous amount of new investment in the county. In addition to the $4 billion anticipated from the recently announced expansion of Pembina Pipeline Corp. (set to come online in 2021), the Sturgeon Refinery also chugged towards completion, with some 6,000 workers on-site on most days.

“They’re becoming a very important cog in Alberta’s economy and Sturgeon County’s economy,” Flynn said of the refinery, which could bring about $20 million in taxes a year to the county. He also hoped the proposed second phase of the refinery would go ahead.

One of council’s main jobs next year will be to figure out how best to use that money, Flynn said. The new funds could help the county pay down its debt or fund new road improvements, for example, such as the 12 to 13 kilometres of new roads a year the county committed to build this year.

“The county has to do more work on paying its own way,” he added, which it has started to do with its recent changes to how it funds libraries and recreation centres.

“We’re going to be in a much better position to support the region.”

The county has started work on joint servicing of the county campus/regional recreation centre site next to Morinville, Flynn said. While he wanted to see the business case for the rec centre before naming a figure, he said the county planned to chip in some amount of capital towards its construction.

County council will be picking an architect to design its county campus this January, Flynn said. The project is designed to bring the county’s scattered workforce together on one site and would likely save the county money on rental space.

This year also saw work commence on some long-standing water supply headaches. New federal grants mean that work on the Alcomdale water line will start next year, which should end that community’s long-running boil-water advisory. The Sturgeon River Valley is also getting a new sewage lift station and an expanded Allin Ridge reservoir, the latter of which could allow for improved fire protection, Flynn said.

Flynn said council’s next biggest challenge next year after creating a framework with which to manage the funds from the Sturgeon Refinery will be working with Edmonton and St. Albert to plan development of the Sturgeon River Valley, a region that was excluded from the recent Edmonton Metropolitan Region Growth Plan. He personally hoped that issue would be settled before the next election.

On that subject, Flynn said he would discuss running for re-election with his family over the holidays, but signalled that he’d likely run again.

“I certainly have enjoyed representing the people in Sturgeon County, so I’m leaning in that direction.”

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.