County Mayor Tom Flynn received a standing ovation from a crowd of about 150 people at the State of the County address and breakfast last Friday at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre.
The annual address, the last before this fall’s municipal election, was meant to give people an update on conditions in the county.
Flynn, fighting back tears as he spoke from the heart, said that the county had to look forwards a long ways in its decisions as it moved towards its centennial in 2018, and vowed to continue to advocate for the county’s residents.
“I’ve lived here over 60 years. Sturgeon is where my roots are. Sturgeon is my home. I want to look for what is best for Sturgeon County and its people, and I am Sturgeon proud.”
Flynn said one of council’s top priorities since it was first elected four years ago was to forge better relations with its neighbours. The county has worked closely with the Capital Region Board, the Metro Mayor’s Alliance, St. Albert and Morinville to plan development and infrastructure in this region, and helped create a regional growth plan that, if approved by the province, will protect some 250 quarter-sections of land from development in the next 30 years.
“That is so significant. It’ll help feed our future generations,” Flynn said, to applause.
The county was also working with the Town of Morinville on a business case for the town’s new rec-centre – a project for which there are still many unanswered questions about governance, operating costs and risks, Flynn said.
“We recognize there are benefits for our residents, but the feasibility has to be determined.”
Economically, Flynn spoke of how Pembina Pipeline Corp. had recently announced plans to build a $4.2 billion polypropylene facility in the Alberta Industrial Heartland, and how phase one of the Sturgeon Refinery was set to soon come on stream this fall. Both are anticipated to add millions in tax revenues to the county’s coffers.
“There is an appetite by all the people around us to help in spending those dollars,” Flynn said in an interview, but as the recent fire at the Syncrude plant in Fort McMurray showed, these projects can easily go off the rails. He didn’t want to commit dollars that he didn’t yet have in the bank.
The county was working to prepare for this industrial growth by investing more in its road network and developing a sustainable road plan, Flynn told the crowd. The county has also expanded the Allin Ridge Reservoir, built a new fire hall near Namao, and was working on a Build Sturgeon fund to finance community infrastructure.
“We’re in good shape. We’re growing, and we’re going in the right direction.”
Flynn said that council was still working on its revised land-use bylaw and would sit “as long as we need to” next March 28 to hear from people at the public hearing. While he couldn’t comment specifically on the law, as the public hearing was still open, he said council anticipated they would make “significant changes” to it once the hearing closed.
Morinville & District Chamber of Commerce president Simon Boersma said the county was starting to go in the right direction by holding more public consultations and hiring more engineers to work on roads. He said it was critical for the county to keep a grip on its land-use policies to ensure it protected its farmland.
“We’ve got to keep the farms in Sturgeon County. That’s how we built a lot of Sturgeon County, and that’s what the heart is of Sturgeon.”