Future Of Country Markets In Question

Kneehill Logo 2019

All members of Kneehill County Council were in attendance for the May 28, 2024, Regular Meeting, called to order at 8:30 am by Reeve Kenneth King. The agenda was adopted with minor additions, and Deputy Reeve Wittstock noted a small amendment needed to the previous meeting minutes, due, he commented, likely to a lack of clarity in his presentation on an irrigation project being put forward by the Municipality of Acadia Valley and the Special Areas; it is not being put forward by the Red Deer River Municipal Users Group as the minutes stated.

First up on the agenda was item 4.1, Hamlet of Wimborne: Naturally Occurring Fluoride, presented by John McKiernan, Manager of Environmental Services. McKiernan shared that water in Wimborne has always been high in naturally occurring fluoride, averaging at 2.0 mg/L, above what the Province sets as the Maximum Allowable Concentration (MAC) of 1.50mg/L. The water is also high in Sodium and Total Dissolvable Solids (TDS); these do not have a MAC but do exceed the Aesthetic Objective (AO) that a consumer may be comfortable with. The Province has historically granted an exemption to communities with high naturally occurring fluoride, so long as these communities notified their residents. Kneehill County has long had a notification on their webpage and also includes an AHS letter regarding the water in residents’ utility bills.

However, Alberta Environment and Parks removed the exemption in June 2022 and have told communities with high naturally occurring fluoride that they would need to figure out a system to reduce the fluoride levels to bring them in line with the MAC of 1.50mg/L or they would be considered non-compliant. Initially, the County was told that their deadline to have the system implemented and functional would be June 2027, however, this timeline has not been confirmed. A letter with this information was supposed to have been in the mail but has not yet been received.

McKiernan presented four options that are being considered. The first, centralized on-site treatment, was seen as the most realistic. The current pumphouse would be upgraded with reverse osmosis to reduce fluoride and remove both sodium and TDS to bring MAC compliance and meet AO guidelines. Because RO removes healthy minerals and elements, it would be blended with non-treated water to keep compliance and keep necessary minerals and elements. The RO unit would produce wastewater as prefiltering is necessary to not overwhelm the RO filters; Council wanted to ensure that the lagoon could handle this additional load as there is no release possible at the lagoon. McKiernan noted that there’s currently an average daily use of 8 cubes and that 20-30% wastage is likely; with a capacity for 20 cubes, the average additional load bringing the total to 12 cubes should be easily accommodated.

There is also ammonia in the groundwater and RO would remove the ammonia, eliminating the need for high chlorine dosage.

The estimated initial cost of this project is estimated to be $550,000.00, with an estimated ongoing cost of $104,000.00.

The second option, which McKiernan, notes as flawed and one that should not be pursued, is point-of-use treatment; an RO system in each household. He notes that water distributed by the County would still exceed MAC and that the system would be difficult for the County to oversee and maintain. Because the RO systems would strip minerals and elements, McKiernan said it would require re-mineralization to be suitable for use.

The third option, also with its challenges, is a water supply line extension from the Torrington pumphouse/reservoir to the Wimborne pumphouse/reservoir. Torrington’s water is treated at the Town of Drumheller water treatment plant and then sent through the Aqua 7 Regional waterline to the Sunnyslope Pressure System. There are concerns that the Sunnyslope system may not be able to expand, as shown in a 2018 study.

There is an existing 5km pipeline between Wimborne and Torrington; its condition is estimated to be good but is not verified at this time. Therefore an estimate of $2.5M is being given to provide a 9km pipeline between the hamlets. Should a pipeline and Sunnyslope upgrades be needed, the cost is estimated at $5.5M. McKiernan notes “A concern with the connection to Torrington is the long waterline and small demand within Wimborne resulting in the water being in the pipeline for approximately 19 days before it reaches the residents of the Hamlet. This would most likely require the boosting of chlorine prior to distribution as well as the Hamlet resulting in the potential of increasing THM levels.”

The fourth option is the delivery of potable water. However, this option has its challenges: scheduling of the hauler, demands exceeding stored water on hand, frequent deliveries in the summer months, added pressure on the Sunnyslope system, dependence on a third party for water deliveries, and annual operational costs. Council accepted this report for information.

Item 4.2, Capital Equipment Plan Pre-authorization—Snowplow, was presented by Mike Conkin, Project Construction Supervisor. Conkin had two motions for Council’s consideration: 1) That Council approve the expenditure of up to $555,000.00 from the Capital Equipment Replacement Reserve to fund the purchase of a Class 8 Highway Snowplow for delivery in the fall of 2024; 2) That Council direct the insurance proceeds received as a result of the totalled snowplow be contributed to the Capital Equipment Replacement Reserve.

The snowplow in question was scheduled for replacement in the 2026 budget year, however has been deemed a complete loss by the insurance company. In order to maintain the current level of service (that is, removing 5 cm/2 inch of surface accumulation or icy road conditions within 24 hours on 92km of paved/chip-sealed roadway) a third truck is needed. Operations crews did consider renting a snowplow, however, the condition of the equipment and usage would not be guaranteed. It is also estimated to be cost savings to purchase now rather than in the 2026 budget year, as costs for equipment continue to rise each year. Council approved both motions unanimously.

Item 5.1.1, Bylaw 1902—Redesignation from Agriculture to Recreation, was presented by Deanna Keiver, Planning and Development Officer. There were two motions presented to Council: 1) That Council move first reading of proposed Bylaw 1902 to amend Land Use Bylaw 1808 by redesignating a portion of SW 16-31-25 W4 from Agricultural District to Recreation District; 2) that Council move to schedule the Public Hearing, as per Sections 216.4 & 692 of the Municipal Government Act, to be held on June 25, 2024, at 10:00 am.

Background for the proposal: “Wayne and Lydia Nelson will be taking possession of a 20.09-acre parcel on the SW 16-31-25 W4 on June 1, 2024. The new landowners wish to redesignate portions of the property from Agricultural to Recreation in order to accommodate events such as (but not limited to) Family Reunions, Weddings, Church Picnics/Campouts, Conferences, Retreats, and Music Events.” Approximately 5 acres would be redesignated to Recreation with the remaining 15 acres remaining for Agriculture. “This site is currently known as the Refuge Ranch site.” Council moved the first reading and set the Public Hearing for June 25th, 2024 at 10 am.

Item 5.2.1, Open Farm Days Community Event in Trochu, a funding request, presented by Fallon Sherlock. The motion was to approve the allocation of $5,000.00 in funding to support the Open Farm Days Cluster event at the Trochu Arboretum on August 17, 2024, to be funded from the Growing Kneehill project budget.

The funding would cover bussing, portable sanitary facilities at the Arboretum, entertainment, and advertising in The Capital newspaper. The theme for the event will be “Build a Farmer” with hands-on workshops on farming and gardening etc. Council applauded the group on their collaboration in making the event happen, for helping to promote agricultural practices and knowledge, and Council supported the motion with all in favour.

Item 5.2.2, Agricultural Fieldman Appointment, also presented by Fallon Sherlock, was a motion to appoint herself as Agricultural Fieldman, from her current position as Manager of Parks & Ag Services. Sherlock was the interim fieldman in 2021 and 2023 while the manager was away on leave. She has taken Certified Agricultural Fieldman training and has worked in the Ag Services & Parks Department for 11 years. Council unanimously appointed Sherlock to the Agricultural Fieldman position and thanked her for her service to the County.

An added item to the agenda, 5.2.3, was an emergent update on the Kneehill Country Markets planned to be held at Horseshoe Canyon for the summer of 2024. It was noted by Ms. Sherlock that only 4 vendors had completed the paperwork to participate in the event, with 10 others interested. With such low participation, Sherlock and the team proposed a motion to have the markets cancelled should 20 or fewer vendors be signed up by May 31, 2024. After much discussion, Council moved, with all in favour, to hold any event that has 15 or more vendors, but cancel those that fail to reach this threshold by May 31, 2024.

Secondly, Council moved with all in favour of having staff include the Country Market in the 2025 budget proposal for Council’s consideration, so that this item does not get lost and remains a Council priority.

Lastly, should three markets not go forward, Council moved to have staff conduct additional research with funds to not exceed $4,000.00. Councillor McGhee specifically asked that the research and marketing be with Kneehill County-based businesses, to assist them and learn how to make the markets work for them. Other businesses outside the County are free to participate in the market, but Council wanted to be sure they had a strong Kneehill County base and that they understood the needs of Kneehill businesses.

Item 6.1, Virtual City Hall, was a request presented by Will Nyman, Information Technology Supervisor. Purchasing Virtual City Hall, with an initial implementation cost of $15,000.00 and an ongoing annual cost of $10,000.00 would create a self-serve, value-added option for residents to pay bills, view tax certificates and account balances etc. online. The software would integrate with the County’s existing website and financial systems and would cut down on the requests that staff handle now, and save on some postage costs. Council was clear that should ratepayers still prefer paper billing or need help over the phone or in person, that County staff would still provide those services and residents should always feel free to stop in. The cost would come from the Corporate Initiatives fund, which was established for administration to provide efficiencies, funded from previous years’ surpluses. Generally costs from this fund do not come to Council, however, because this involves a new service level and ongoing cost, it was brought to Council. Council unanimously approved the 2024 purchase of Virtual City Hall, to be funded from the Corporate Initiatives fund.

At 10:30 am Council heard a delegation from Julie Miller, CAO of Kneehill Housing Corporation, who was joined by Phillip Henke, HMB Operations Housing Division of the Government of Alberta, Barb Panich, Director of Housing Policy, Housing Division of Alberta Seniors and Housing for the Government of Alberta. Miller outlined some of the cost pressures the lodge is facing, as well as the revenue streams to run the lodge.

Kneehill Housing operates the Golden Hills Lodge and manages other Province-owned sites across the County. The first revenue stream for the Lodge is from rental income from residents. Legislation dictates that each resident must be left with $357 of expendable income per month after rent. Rental rates must remain below this threshold to ensure that there is affordable housing enabling residents to remain in the County. There is a Provincial Lodge Assistance Program (LAP) subsidy, the second revenue stream for the lodge, that assists seniors who fall below a $30,000.00 annual income threshold. This previously had been set at $13.23 per day per senior requiring subsidy, but has now increased substantially to $20.50. Kneehill Housing is very grateful for this increase, but Miller notes it is still not enough to bridge the gap between what the residents can afford and the actual costs that the Lodge accrues. The deficit falls to Kneehill Housing to fund, through requisitions to municipalities. Many rural lodges struggle with vacancies.

Upon hearing this, Reeve King asked a pointed question of the Provincial employees on the call, asking them “Why is our partner, and the person who is making the rules, not funding the gap?” If the Province makes this legislation, why is it the responsibility of the Kneehill Housing Corporation to fund the gap? The answer was not fulsome but was a reminder of the increase in subsidy.

If actual costs were passed on to the residents, the monthly rental rate would be $3,000.00 just to make the Lodge’s ends meet; a large jump from the current rental rate of $1,460.00. Lodge rates are set by each housing board, not by the Provincial government. The previous year’s deficit is submitted on April 30th and from there, requisitions are sent. Residents will see their share of the Kneehill Housing payment as a separate line item on tax statements. Miller shared that historically reserves have not been managed properly, food costs have increased substantially, and the Lodge also faces cost pressures from carbon tax, increased utility costs, increased maintenance resources and supply costs, long-term deferred maintenance, aging infrastructure and equipment, human resources and training costs, vacancies, and regulations surrounding rental rates. Council thanked Miller et. al. for attending the meeting.

Later on in the meeting, Council received the KHC delegation for information and Councillor Penner noted “It’s good to remember that the board sets the rates for the Lodge, not the Province. They do it for a reason and are trying to keep costs to a minimum; we need to stand behind them. The board is working in the right direction.”

At 11:00 am, Accurate Assessment presented a delegation to Council, highlighting the County’s Assessment in the previous year and giving a look at the year ahead. They noted strong market growth in 2023 and shared details on the assessment model review that is currently taking place in the Province. Council asked a lot of questions and expressed gratitude to Accurate Assessment for helping them to understand the litany of details associated with assessment.

Council later received the delegation for information. Councillor McGhee noted “It’s really important for us to understand how assessment works so we can better plan for a sustainable future. I think understanding how assessment and tax rates are set really helps us know how we do have to have a diverse way of living here and as much as we want to preserve the agricultural way of life, it’s not going to sustain us. So how do we create that? It really emphasized that we really need to do some homework on making a plan for that.” Any residents were questions or concerns regarding assessment should contact the County who will then put them in touch with Accurate Assessment. The company expressed great willingness to dialogue with ratepayers.

Item 6.2, Capital Project – Council Screen, was presented by Will Nyman. The recommended motion before Council was “That Council increase the budget for the Council Screen replacement from $44,000.00 to $64,000.00 with funds coming from the IT reserve.” Council had set the budget to replace the screen at $44,000.00 but quotes are all coming back higher than this amount. The background for the motion highlighted that the current screen is beyond its life cycle, “thereby exposing the County to the risk of operational failure” and ironically it did shut off on its own at one point during the meeting. Nyman and the team are recommending the purchase of LED panels to create one large screen free of bezels, with an intended lifespan of seven years. Projection technology was another solution offered that would save money, but it was not favoured by Nyman as it came with challenges (for instance blocking light from the high windows in the Council chamber, leading to blurring/faded images), and therefore the LED panels were seen as the best option. Council wanted those listening to understand that there really is a need for a new screen and accepted the motion with all in favour.

Item 6.3, Town of Trochu Senior’s Living Complex Borrowing Bylaw was presented by Theresa Cochran, Director of Corporate Services. This bylaw is to update project timelines, review interest rates and amend the guaranteed loan agreement needed by the Trochu Housing Corporation to construct their $41M Senior Housing Project. The recommended motion “That Council undertake the first reading of Bylaw 1898 as directed by the Council resolution on February 27, 2024, which mandated the creation of a new bylaw to address timelines and interest rates associated with the Trochu Housing Corporation’s loan guarantee agreement” was passed unanimously by Council. Reeve King wondered whether the County would become the title holders of the project should Trochu default on their payment; CAO Haugen would need to confirm this before giving a response, but this clause could be added in the future as this is just first reading.

Item 6.4, 2025 Budget Guidelines, was presented by Marika von Mirbach, Financial Planning Coordinator. Her motion was that “The 2025 Operating and Capital Budgets, the 2026-2028 Operating Forecast, and the 2026-2030 Capital Forecast will be prepared with the principles: 1) Align with Council’s Strategic Plan; 2) Sustain existing service levels; 3) Maintain competitive tax rates; 4) Review and recommend adjustments to service fees and rates as necessary; 5) Continue to implement and monitor a proactive infrastructure renewal strategy; 6) Enhance the customer experience.” Council moved as presented, with all in favour.

Item 7.1, Alberta Utilities Commission Rule 007 Consultation, was presented by CAO Mike Haugen. The AUC is allowing sending a written submission “regarding AUC Rule 007 which governs applications for power plants, substations, transmission lines, industrial system designations, hydro developments, and gas utility pipelines.” Given the present concern surrounding wind and solar projects, Council was eager to take part and moved with all in favour, “That Council direct staff to prepare a written submission as part of the current AUC review of Rule 007.” Administration and Council will have further discussion at a future Committee of the Whole Meeting to prepare for the submission deadline of September 3rd, 2024.

Next on the agenda was item 9.1, Council and Committee Reports. Several Councillors expressed appreciation for the Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP) event recently held in Red Deer. The Premier and several ministers were in attendance. Councillors enjoyed the networking opportunity but also noted that it would be beneficial for the Province to dialogue more with rural Albertans and business owners. They were thankful to CAEP for hosting, and Councillor McGhee noted that $3,300.00 was raised over and above expenses, a great benefit to CAEP. CAEP was also hosting a Zoom call that Council was invited to attend regarding the future of electricity in the Province and around the world. Councillors Fobes and McGhee were planning to attend.

Councillor Cunningham shared that Kneehill Housing would be hosting their fourth annual street hockey tournament on June 1st from 11 am - 2 pm at Golden Hills Lodge, with a BBQ lunch by donation at noon; everyone was welcome to attend. The Council and Committee Reports were accepted as presented.

On the Council Follow-Up Action List, Reeve King asked Director of Infrastructure Mike Ziehr if a date had been set for the Huxley resident engagement session regarding the findings of the Wastewater Study. Ziehr and Council agreed on June 26th from 5 pm - 7 pm to give plenty of notice so as many residents as possible could attend. The Follow-Up Action List was accepted as presented.

Council entered Closed Session at 2:45 pm where they would be discussing Third Party Business, FOIP Section 16. They returned to Open Session at 4:19 pm. With no motions coming from Closed Session, the meeting was adjourned at 4:20 pm. The next Regular Meeting of Kneehill County Council is scheduled for June 11th, 2024 at 8:30 am.