Holmes looks back on busy year

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School sites, photo radar, new CAO and more

Photo radar. School sites. A fired CAO.

2016 was a tumultuous time for Morinville town council, with something big and controversial before them seemingly every month.

“Busy” would definitely be a good term for it, said Mayor Lisa Holmes in a year-end interview.

“We’ve done a great job of setting the stage for some big projects to come,” she said, and settled some long-standing issues such as the pet bylaw.

At the same time, council also got some dismal scores on its most recent approval survey, with just 46 per cent of residents agreeing that council was serving their personal interests and 49 per cent believing it was planning effectively for the town’s future.

The survey was definitely a wake-up call that shows that the town is not doing enough to celebrate its accomplishments, Holmes said.

“We’ve tried really hard to be the most communicative council in Morinville ever,” she said, and have reached out through coffee-nights and social media.

One of council’s earliest challenges was the decision in January to dismiss chief administrative officer Debbie Oyarzun. It was a good move for the town, said Holmes, who noted that her successor, Andy Isbister, helped council pass its earliest budget in about a decade.

A few weeks later council was embroiled in a spat over a school site. Sturgeon School Division, town staff and the province were at loggerheads over how to build the town’s newest public school next to the Ray McDonald Sports Centre, and all progress on it had ground to a halt. Council had to call in Education Minister David Eggen to get the project back on track.

If she had to do it all over again, Holmes said she would have called in Eggen sooner in order to alert the development community as to the situation.

Council then surprised many in June by producing an alternate site for the school that allowed construction to resume.

Holmes said she sat down with a map over the Family Day long weekend to figure out where the town could put the school, and worked with administration to make the Grandin Heights site a reality.

“This is a huge win for our community to get a new junior high school.”

By September, council had passed its new comprehensive pet bylaw, which leashed cats and dogs, licensed chickens and took almost 12 months to write.

“This was one of the biggest bylaws you could tackle as a council,” she said, and councillors kept hearing different messages from the public whenever they revised it.

“Definitely, it’s frustrating. We all just want to do what is best for everyone.”

After much debate, council set out a new policy for how it would use photo radar and the cash it earned. The policy sets out where and for how long officers are to use the technology. The policy specifies that a majority of the revenue from it is to go towards traffic safety, crime prevention and community good.

Holmes said she hoped the town’s new photo enforcement policy would improve the public’s trust in the tool, although the issue will probably never go away.

“People across the province still look at Morinville as being the hub or centre of all photo radar concerns because of our (2014) plebiscite,” she said, with a laugh.

The town notched up a big win this year when it convinced Sturgeon County to support a business case study for a regional rec-centre, Holmes said.

“To move forward on anything other than the (new) arena, we needed the county at the table.”

The town also saw many new businesses set up shop, including the Dairy Queen.

Holmes said council’s main focus next year would be recreation, particularly the new arena and rec-centre. As for the election, she said she would likely make a decision on running by spring.

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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.