Sturgeon County’s mayoral candidates faced off for the first time in public last Wednesday, debating everything from the county campus to Cardiff.
Some 90 people came to the Gibbons School gym Wednesday evening for the first of two Sturgeon County election forums organized by the Morinville & District Chamber of Commerce.
Moderator Peter Kossowan asked mayoral candidates Tom Flynn and Alanna Hnatiw a series of questions from the audience, many of which he struggled to read due to bad handwriting. He also directed questions towards Division 1, 5, and 6 candidates Ferd Caron, Dan Derouin, Marty Derouin, Frank Klassen, Jacob Middelkamp, Charlaine Pasemko, Maxwell Power, Karen Shaw, Patrick Tighe, and Vicki Zinyk.
Most of the questions were directed towards the mayoral candidates, who also weighed in on most of the others.
When asked about the status of the development moratorium on Cardiff imposed in 2012, Hnatiw said she was not aware of it.
Flynn confirmed that the moratorium was still in place as the county had yet to develop an area structure plan for the region.
“That’s because the infrastructure is not there to support any future growth at this time.”
The county would have to work closely with Morinville on this issue and account for the many old coal mines in the region, he added.
When asked how they thought tax rates would change in their term, Hnatiw, who may have misunderstood the question, said that the county would likely get the biggest bump in assessment from the Sturgeon Refinery.
Flynn said he believed residential tax rates would either remain stable or decrease, adding that the county would work to reduce its non-residential rates as money from the Sturgeon Refinery came in.
On roads affected by industry, Hnatiw said the county had to set timelines to resolve its ongoing road issues, adding, “It’s not rocket science.”
Flynn said the county had to get an additional road into the Industrial Heartland region, and was working with developers to get a paved road to the Pro North Industrial Park.
On the subject of the controversial county campus, Flynn said that the campus had been initiated by the previous council. Previous councils had sold off half the land meant for the current county office, which left it no room to grow. The original plan was to get a design in place for the new campus in case grants became available. When those grants didn’t appear, he said he wasn’t prepared to move forward using debt.
“We put it (the project) on a shelf and we will look at it sometime in the future when the need and timing is right.”
Hnatiw said the county should not use the term “campus” to describe this building as it confused residents into thinking it was related to education, and said that the county’s request for proposals to design the operations building said that it was to be built by 2018.
“I’m not sure it was that far off in the distance.”
That request for proposals did say that the county “envisions” the campus to be designed and built by Sept. 1, 2018, but also says, “This timeline may be accelerated and or delayed should it meets (sic) the needs of the County.”
Council voted to halt all work on detailed design for the campus in February.
Councillors edge in
On seniors, Hnatiw said the county had to build better homes and bylaws so as to not stop multiple generations from living together. Flynn said seniors were very important, and that the county’s new land-use bylaw allowed for secondary suites and/or second residences on farms.
Zinyk emphasized partnering with local communities to create programs to get seniors out of the home. Shaw noted that the county supported Homeland Housing through its taxes and held regular seniors’ workshops in Redwater.
On the subject of making development easy for residents, Flynn said his council had streamlined the process and that he had personally helped some people through it. Hnatiw said the county had to simplify its land-use bylaw and hold Subdivision 101 classes to educate residents.
While Zinyk touted her experience with land-use laws, Tighe said that the county had put onerous restrictions on developers that caused about five to give up in frustration last term.
The county did give multi-lot subdivision developers concessions in the past in cases like Greystone Manor, Shaw said. That project now has some 80 deficiencies in it that taxpayers have to pay to fix. The current council has set new parameters so that “development pays for development, not you and I.”
When asked what they would do about roads in subdivisions, Marty Derouin said, “What I would do about them is pave ‘em.”
Zinyk noted that paving costs money, which is often added to local taxes.
Shaw said that unpaved subdivision roads were the result of past rules where developers weren’t required to pay for roads – a rule that has now changed. She also said that many people she had met at her coffee meetings told her they did not want water and sewer service.
“We can pave all the roads in the county but how much are people willing to pay to have that?”
In her closing remarks, Shaw said that county council had gone from dysfunctional and chaotic in the previous term to stable and respected under Flynn.
“I do not want to return to those old days.”
The Chamber will host a second forum featuring all county candidates at the Cardiff Community Hall (55320 Range Road 251) on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.