Kneehill County Council Report

At Kneehill County May 10, 2011 Council meeting, a group of residents from the Phase 4 water service area project, calling themselves 'Kneehill Choice' once again had an audience with County Council, to confirm their stance of not wanting or needing the water at this time, and that they don't approve or appreciate a Council, working on their behalf, who would force them to pay the $6000 riser fee. They have also deduced that because the Councillors seem to be sincere in their decisions to bring water to the community, then it must be due to erroneous information that Council was given too many years ago and "the misguided feasibility of the Commission's regional line". This group insists that the County should put a hold on the construction of this line immediately, and perform another study, which would be based on more accurate information and would prove to this community the need for the water, or not. This group's spokesperson, Clint Mason, a resident of Carstairs but who has land in the area, requested all documents, including financial be handed over to the group. "We want to know if there will be tax charges in the future, to pay for ongoing construction, or repairs, or related lines, like a sewer line." It was inferred in his remarks that in light of the recent favorable auditors report, Council had "remedied its financials". Although he stated, "that there had been a lot of misinformation on both sides," the core of the problem was that this group didn't have an opportunity to participate. "We didn't have the ability to make the choice." He reiterated multiple times that he did not want to stop others from receiving this water, and he realized that if "Ten people around me wanted the water, then I guess I would have to accept I am the odd one out." He also described one of the situations he would have preferred, which is bringing the water to only those who need it, stating that he would understand that he would be charged a significantly higher price in the future if he found he needed it. Council had indeed considered that option at one time but discounted it for a number of reasons, including affordability for those needing it immediately, construction considerations for cost effectiveness, including proper pipe sizes, and to make it affordable even into the future so others could benefit, since 'significantly higher price' could mean 'impossibly higher price'.
During the discussion portion between Council and Mr. Mason, the Reeve explained that when the reservoir was built north of Linden, during the very first phase of the water construction project, it was built with the intent that it would service that entire area (that includes phase 4). She explained that all the water services areas since conception, have always been considered one big project, designed a few years ago. "If it could have all been built in one season, we would have, since the entire pipeline was engineered as a 'whole' project but it had to be broken up into phases to fit construction time-lines and to assist in the acceptance of grant applications." Clr. Wittstock admitted freely that not one phase was ever singled out and petitioned as a separate entity. "We petitioned the County as a 'whole' area. Many said that they would want it, would sign up even though they didn't have an immediate need, while many others needed it yesterday. This comprised a majority. We subdivided (the project) to handle the logistics of construction, not to handle the decision." Mr. Mason continued with the reasoning that his area would not need it. "I challenge your assumption that we will ever need it." The Reeve explained that the security of having the water system differs very little from the concept of years of financially supporting the Kneehill Ambulance Service. "We were paying $200 per person from your taxes in case you would have ever needed that service, hoping that you wouldn't actually need it. Everyone needs water to live and succeed."
Reeve Calhoun stated emphatically that this (pipeline) was never based on her own personal agenda, and Mr. Mason seemed to understand that, apologizing for past statements that were of a derogatory and personal nature. "We were concerned there was not proper representation for our specific area, but it was not a personal attack on any one individual." He went on to say, "Some of the information was inaccurate and given to you inaccurately and the audited report (of the Commission's line) doesn't seem sustainable." Clr. Wittstock agreed that the report being referred to was not a very positive one and the Board, along with the new administrator for the financials have worked on devising a better plan and the results for the last audit were very good, stating that the Commission had shown a profit in the past year. Mr. Mason and others were not convinced, understandably very skeptical that there could have been such a vast financial turn around to put the Commission in the black, and if this plan A didn't work out, was there a plan B? Wittstock confirmed that a profit for the year was shown, even after a payment was made toward an annual plan to pay off the outstanding debt. He also clarified that because of legalities of being a 'Commission', all financials were subject to the approval of Municipal Affairs (MA), and the Commission's Board was still waiting for a letter of approval for the timeline plan of 'debt payback', but the Commission had to move forward in this regard and the audited statements do support the feasibility of the regional line to pay for itself. Wittstock further advised that there could be no plan B, as the Board is dependent on hearing back from MA regarding this first plan. The Reeve wanted to make it clear that the County's administrator was not taking another 'fee' for administering to the Commission's books. "When the position became available by tender, the County applied and received the position. Our administrator accepts this as another aspect of his duties on behalf of the County. I just wanted to make that clear."
As to the County's financials, the County's administrator was fairly certain that its audited financials for 2010 are now posted on line. "The County is not in any financial constraints and all repayment plans for the water line are in place. He advised, when questioned about proper procedure, that the borrowing bylaw had been advertised as required and not one letter of complaint was received.
When questioned about why the County didn't follow the same procedures as other Counties in regard to 'choice' about the water line, the Reeve admitted she did not know how many Counties were working on a regional water system, did not know their approach, nor how many of them offer a choice. "Our distribution system was being designed a few years ago and Kneehill County Councillors came up with its own formula after considering all the various options. You are welcome to disagree but others in this County like the formula. We have letters of support. We get phone calls of support. They tell us they are glad we did it this way because they can afford the $6000 but wouldn't have been able to afford $19,000 or possibly more.
Later in the meeting a motion from the meeting of April 26 was rescinded. The previous motion was to publish a response to the letters of complaint in the local paper, as well as the answers to questions. The motion at that time had been based on six letters. Since then, written responses have been sent to 38 residences and addressed 121 questions. The letter and response to the questions had also ben placed on the County's website and it was felt that publishing it further would be redundant and burden on the space of the newspaper. Since that meeting, staff updated the number of letters sent out to 217 in all, which includes residents of the hamlet of Torrington.
Council, later in the meeting, approved by motion, the awarding of the construction of the Sunnyslope WSA distribution line to Chinook Pipelines. Clr. Keiver raised no open discussion but was opposed to the vote. He did not request a recorded vote. Tenders for the WSA closed on April 28, 2011. It was noted that the reservoir for this phase had been previously constructed (when the Linden North line was installed) but upgrades may be required and that tender is scheduled to be released mid May 2011.
Selkirk WSA
The ribbon cutting ceremony for the commissioning of the Selkirk water service area has been slated for May 24, 2011, a Tuesday at 3:30 pm. Councillors will attend and there will be cake. Council approved the connections for two new applicants who completed water-modeling and were subsequently recommended for the Selkirk WSA. One of these was the Acme Golf Club. Operations advised Council that reclamation has begun on the Selkirk project and they are working to get this done in an efficient and timely manner as spring seeding has begun. With regard to the Mt. Vernon System and Gamble WSA (north of Carbon Cemetery), there was some damage to the water lines. Due to the amount of water and runoff from this particular Spring, washouts were created. This effect isn't exclusive to the water lines as Operations is also dealing with washout issues on a number of roads. It was noted that Operations acquired the services of Great West Helicopters to assist with the cleanup of the Orkney Viewpoint for mid May.
Letters of support
Council listed (in time for this meeting), 13 families that had sent in letters of support for the water service project. These specific letters were attached to the agenda package. It was noted that some other letters had also been received but requested 'in camera' anonymity so as not to further strain neighbor relations. Verbal support was also received both in person and by phone. Of the letters listed, at least seven of them were from the Sunnyslope WSA. One of these stated that the writer "had been waiting patiently for our phase to be completed. Now the time has come and I don't want to see a handful of people control the county's actions. It would be very, very upsetting if I did not get this water system put in place." Another writer from this WSA stated he had two wells on the property and "an ample supply of bad water". "We have a basement full of expensive equipment for the purpose of making our water fit for household use. This equipment has to be serviced and maintained and a technician call can be quite expensive." He writes further that he has an option of drilling for a new well, also quite expensive with no guarantees. "We are aware that this (County water line) is costly to all land owners. We applaud the Kneehill County Council for considering the financial burden to landowners and offering some payment options." He thanked Council for having the foresight to supply most of the County with a reliable water system. "We consider this to be an asset to our property." Another from the same area listed his reasons for support, "a shortened list of a lengthy rationale to support this project." He thanked the County for supplying potable water to rural residences. Another in this area also had to drill a new water and still has bad water. They realized they could be a minority in this area but hoped the water would reach their farm. Also from the area: "Please be advised that despite all the negativity and complaints regarding the water project, we are very much in favor,...and will continue to support Council's efforts,..." From another project area, the writer listed the complications of all water wells from contamination issues to remedial. "There is no doubt in our minds that Council made the right decisions on this issue, a cost that is the envy of many regions." Others were amazed by the negative comments and abusive use of 'facebook' and thought it was time to speak out in favor of both the water line and Council. "The water line didn't just happen since the last election so why are so many of you up in arms now?" Further writing, that Council had done its homework and "cared enough for each and every one of us by bringing this opportunity of a lifetime to us all, making it cost effective for all by the price and opportunity to spread this pittance over a 15-year term on your taxes."
Council approved a motion to enter into an agreement with Enmax for a five-year fixed rate option that includes 50% green power. This was one of four options that was recommended by Administration, including the first option that did not entail any green power. It was hypothesized that the regulated rate for electrical power could rise considerably as a result of two aging coal-fired power plants near Edmonton being shut down permanently. Administration provided cost comparisons from previous years, which showed these new rates to be very favorable.
Council made a motion to direct Administration to make a written request to the Town of Three Hills to refund the 2011 Three Hills Medical Clinic Property tax upon payment of the 2011 taxes.
A motion was approved to donate funds ($5000) for the addition of space to the Acme Curling rink to accommodate the needs of the Acme & District Food Bank. Council also made a motion to donate $600 to the Trochu area 4H group to cover the cost of printing catalogues for an up and coming event.
A motion was made to assist the Trochu, Elnora, & Delburne School Resource Officer with an annual payment of $10,000 for the next three years. The motion was defeated with two in favor, four opposed.