At Morinville Council: clock chaos, interim budget

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Arena construction ramps up

Construction of Morinville’s new rec-centre ramped up this week with the drilling of some of its first support columns.

Construction workers drilled the first of some 150 pilings for the new Morinville Regional Recreation Facility Tuesday morning at the construction site just east of Morinville. These concrete and rebar posts, each of which is 11 to 25 metres long, will support the rest of the roughly $24.3 million building.

“The community has been waiting for a long time for this to actually get started,” town chief administrative officer Andy Isbister said of the rec-centre, “and it’s getting started now.”

Isbister said crews would use two large drilling machines to construct the pilings over the next few weeks and would likely be finished in early January. Residents should expect to see many hauling large steel components to the rec-centre site soon after. Those components would be assembled into the building’s exterior over the next few months.

In a press release, Mayor Barry Turner noted that the rec-centre would include an arena, field house, running track and fitness space, and said council was excited about the recreational opportunities this rec-centre would bring to the region.

The rec-centre is expected to open in spring 2019.

Clock clocks Hofmann

Morinville town council got off to a bizarre start last week when one of its senior planners was struck down in council chambers by a falling clock.

Town council was about to start its regular meeting last Dec. 12 when a clock fell onto the head of planning and economic development director Greg Hofmann.

Coun. Scott Richardson said that Hofmann had apparently backed his chair into a wall upon which the pizza-sized analogue clock was mounted and knocked it loose.

The clock fell front-first about a foot onto Hofmann’s head. Its glass front shattered with a tremendous crash, sending debris everywhere and leaving Hofmann with an oozing wound to the back of his head, a blood-splattered collar, and the clock’s thick wooden frame perched on his head like a crown.

Town staffers rushed to Hofmann’s aid and spent several minutes sweeping up debris.

In an interview, Turner said this was probably the most severe physical injury anyone had sustained while in town council chambers.

Although Hofmann jokingly suggested that all his matters be put on the consent agenda (which would more or less give him the meeting off), he gamely soldiered on through the rest of the two-hour meeting, pressing a paper towel to the small cut on his head for much of it.

The jokes flew thick and fast afterwards. Isbister provided Hofmann with a white hardhat, while Coun. Stephen Dafoe said he had a “smashing” time listening to Hofmann’s report during that night’s public hearing.

“I hope it was timely,” replied Hofmann.

In an interview, Hofmann said he initially thought he had been struck by the framed copy of the council code of conduct mounted beneath the clock.

When asked if this incident was some sort of cosmic rebuke for the meeting starting 15 minutes late, Hofmann laughed and said he “took one for the team.”

“I turned 60 on the 18th of November, so perhaps Father Time is telling me something?”

As for the clock, Isbister said it had hung on the wall without incident since 2012 and been swiftly dispatched to the trash for its actions.

“There goes our capital budget next year,” he joked.

Interim budget passed

Town council will spend up to $4.8 million to keep the lights on next year as it goes into overtime to plan its 2018 budget.

Council voted unanimously in favour of passing an interim operating budget of $4,790,098 on Dec. 12. The interim budget, which is equivalent to a quarter of the 2017 operating budget, is meant to keep basic town operations going until March 31 or the town passes a complete budget (whichever comes first).

As it did after the 2013 election, council decided to pass an interim budget this year in order to give its four rookie members a chance to learn the ropes before tackling a full budget, Turner said in an interview. The plan now is to hold first reading of the actual budget on Jan. 23, followed by an open house on Jan. 30 and final reading on Feb. 27.

Utility rates up

Town residents will have to pay about $26 more on utilities next year now that council has approved three rate-hikes.

Councillors approved the 2018 water, sewage and trash collection rates last week as part of an omnibus motion on multiple items, which included acceptance of reports on vaping, intersection improvements and cannabis legislation. The motion passed 5-2, Dafoe and Richardson opposed.

The average household can expect to spend $1,418.03 on water, sewer, and trash service next year, up $25.83 or 1.86 per cent from 2017. Water rates are up $9.79, sewer by $14.24, and garbage by $1.80, due in part to rate increases by the town’s service providers.

Sponsorships tweaked

Town council has decided to tweak the way it divvies up its leftover sponsorship cash to charity at the end of the year.

Council voted 5-2 in favour of transferring the $2,539.48 it had left over in its sponsorship fund to the town’s Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) department so they could distribute it to the groups  they determined needed it most. Councillors Rebecca Balanko and Sarah Hall were opposed.

Council budgets about $5,000 a year to sponsor events such as the town’s Canada Day celebrations, said town legislative officer Melodie Steele.

For the past few years, council has taken whatever cash was left in the sponsorship fund at the end of the year and automatically split it between the Midstream Society Santa Store, the Knights of Columbus hamper program, and the Morinville’s Marvellous Moms Adopt-a-Family campaign, Turner said in council. Instead of doing that, he felt council should debate where the money would go each year.

Coun. Nicole Boutestein said that there were many groups that could use this money, yet council had no information on which ones needed it the most.

“It’s taxpayer money we’re just giving out.”

She suggested giving community groups a chance to present their cases during budget consultations.

Richardson said that council should give its dollars to the groups with the greatest need, while Dafoe asked why council didn’t just shunt the money into reserves.

These donations will help these groups do more at a time when the need for help is greatest, Isbister said.

“The money will be well spent,” he said, and these groups have a reputation for stretching their dollars.

Dafoe took up Isbister’s suggestion to have FCSS allocate this money instead and made the aformentioned motion.

“We are not the experts on this, but they are,” Dafoe said.

Council will receive a report this January on how these funds were distributed, Turner said in an email.

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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.