We are at the beginning of a new year, and it’s natural to reflect on the successes of 2022. As an organization dedicated to continuous improvement, let’s look back at the highlights of the year that was!
Following the 2021 Municipal election, Lacombe County welcomed three new councillors to the team – Ken Weenink, Allan Wilson and Dwayne West. Despite a steep learning curve into the intricacies of municipal government, Councillors Weenink, Wilson and West have adjusted very well to their new roles and responsibilities as elected officials. Division 3 Councillor Barb Shepherd was re-elected by her colleagues to represent Lacombe County as Reeve for another term.
The first full year of our new Council working together has brought an effective blend of fresh perspectives and varying levels of experience to the table. This was evident during the County’s Strategic Planning workshop in early 2022, where Council developed a new vision for Lacombe County: Success grows here! and identified four strategic goals to help guide decision-making: Our Business; Our Finances; Our Assets, and; Our Community.
With a year under their belts and a clear vision for the future, Council is looking forward to entering 2023 with a commitment to ensuring that Lacombe County continues to be the vibrant, forward-thinking municipality that it is.
Manager of Assessment Services: After a 33-year career with the County, Larry Riep will be retiring from his role as Manager of Assessment Services in March 2023. Since October 24, Angel Svennes has joined Assessment Services and will be taking over Larry’s role in the New Year. Angel brings over 25 years of assessment knowledge and experience sourced from rural and urban municipalities.
Outstanding Oil & Gas Taxes: After a year with a reduction in outstanding oil and gas property taxes, we experienced a significant increase in unpaid taxes in 2022. This increase was related primarily to two oil and gas companies that owe approximately 60% of the total outstanding balance. Preliminary estimates indicate a balance owing of $2,207,000, which is up $889,000 from the $1,318,000 balance in 2021.
Lacombe County has been working with other counties to lobby the provincial government to make legislative changes to assist municipalities in collecting these outstanding oil and gas property taxes. Municipalities now have a priority claim over other debt obligations of oil and gas companies and can place a special lien on associated equipment. In addition, municipalities can issue an objection to the Alberta Energy Regulator when a delinquent oil and gas company seeks to renew or transfer an energy license.
In cases where collection is not successful, the County does establish allowances in the event of the company goes into bankruptcy or no longer exists. The County can also apply to the Province for credit on education taxes that are not collected from these uncollected tax accounts.
Giving Back to the Community: Lacombe County has contributed to various community-led capital projects around the County and in the surrounding urban communities that County residents benefit from. This includes a $14,535 contribution to the Alix Nature Trail Society to replace a pedestrian bridge; a $25,000 contribution to the Gull Lake Community League to replace playground equipment in the Summer Village of Gull Lake; a $38,210 contribution to the City of Lacombe for capital repairs at the Arena and Aquatic Centre; and a $1,948 contribution to the Town of Blackfalds for repairs at the Spray Park.
Fire Permit System: Our own Lacombe County-built Fire Permit system was used to issue 891 fire permits this year. The system is designed to approve simple permits automatically while leaving the complicated ones to the discretion of the County Fire Chief. Of the approved permits in 2022, 376 (42%) were automatically approved by the system, while 515 (58%) were approved manually by the Fire Chief.
Capital Planning: The County has rolled out a comprehensive five-year capital plan to Council as a part of the annual budget presentation. The objective of a five-year capital plan is to provide the public, staff, and Council with a detailed understanding of the County’s long-range capital requirements so we can budget wisely for the future.
Cybersecurity: The County’s Information Services Department implemented a comprehensive cybersecurity program to reduce the threat of cybercrime and proactively safeguard the County’s data and information. This included staff and Council training and the development of new policies and practices.
Highway 2 West Servicing Project: The Highway 2 West Servicing Project was completed in 2021 and during 2022, all businesses within Wild Rose Industrial Park and the Track on 2 were connected to water and wastewater services. The infrastructure has been oversized to accommodate future development.
Reserve Lands: This year, the County inspected reserve lands across the County to create an inventory and confirm how the lands are being used. The Environmental Coordinator is working with landowners to ensure the land use matches the intended purpose and to ensure the lands remain in a publicly accessible state, allowing for passive recreation and ecosystem services, such as wildlife habitat, water quality support, and flood and drought mitigation. By categorizing our green capital, we will be able to ensure they are protected and being used appropriately.
Enhancing Habitat: The County has taken on various initiatives to steward the natural features we manage. For instance, we are in the planning stages of a potential project to restore riparian habitat along the eastern shores of Gull Lake. On a smaller scale, this year, the County planted 60 willows at Crooker Wetlands and replaced trees lost to winter at the Burbank Campground.
Community Peace Officer Services: The County’s Community Peace Officer program has implemented several new features this year, such as electronic ticketing, GPS data input, and officer pass-down logs. This technology has been leveraged to make us more efficient as an organization.
Fire Services: Lacombe County Fire Service members have responded to 579 incidents and completed 14,246 staff hours of training. We are always grateful for the awe-inspiring and selfless undertaking of the County’s Volunteer Fire Service members.
Emergency Management: Lacombe County’s Emergency Management personnel partnered with our Regional Partners on October 26 to host one of the largest emergency management exercises ever completed in Alberta. A total of 600 participants attended the exercise.
Agriculture: The Agriculture Department was busy once again this year working with landowners to control weeds and pathogens. The County is continuing its Agricultural Plastics Recycling Program for a fourth year and has collected 30 rolls of grain bags so far in 2022.
Farm Education: This year saw the return of the County’s annual Farm Safety Day. This year, the County saw 200 students from local schools fill our parking lot and shop yard to learn about safe farming practices. The future generation of farmers was eager to learn about farm safety. Later in the season, the County hosted the Lacombe County Ag Tour, which featured stops at Little Cherries on the Prairie, Gull Lake Honey Company, West County Mills, and Hulleman Farms, followed by a long table dinner hosted by the Lacombe and District Historical Society.
Lacombe County has 2,192 kms of roads to look after and included in that total are 1,778 kms of gravel roads (including 121 kms machinery roads) and 414 kms of paved roads. In 2022 we were able to upgrade our paved road system by widening and overlaying 9.86 km of previously banned road to a ban-free status. Over the years, we have committed to taking our old, paved roads and making them wider and stronger to handle current traffic volumes and size.
Construction Projects: Widening and Paving Lockhart Road (from Junction of Highway 12 north 9.86 kms to Twp Road 41-4).
Chip Seal Coating of Milton West Branch Road (Twp Rd 41-2) from Hwy 2 to Spruceville Road for 10.6 km
Bridge Construction: Four structures were tendered out this year. The bridge construction projects take into consideration our future road construction projects as well. This year’s bridge construction included:
- B01413 (SW 4-39-23 W4 – Haynes Creek on Rge Rd 23-4)
- B7846 (SW 24-40-2 W5 – Rainy Creek on Rge Rd 2-1)
- B7937 (SE 23-41-24 W4 – Parlby Creek on Twp Rd 41-3)
- B72595 (SW 24-41-24 W4 – Tributary to Parlby Creek on Twp Rd 41-3)
- B13455 (SW 18-40-3 W5 – Tributary to Medicine River)
Bridge Culvert Installation: The County installed one of the four bridge culverts in-house, instead of hiring a contractor. Using our own staff and equipment, we successfully installed a 2.7-meter by 39-meter-long culvert in the Eckville area.
Road Construction Projects: Our crews were able to complete 16.9 kms of local gravel road reconstruction in 2022.
Gravel Program: Generally, one-third of the gravel roads are placed on our proposed gravel schedule each year. A total of 530 kms were completed for the gravel program.
Custom Equipment Projects: The shop staff are busy with new equipment. New equipment often requires work to customize it for its intended use. Rig-up projects include tractors, pick-up trucks, and motor scrapers.
Parks and Trails: Our parks team is responsible for maintaining County playgrounds; sweeping County trails in spring; maintaining brush, grass, and weeds on County lands; painting and installing swim lines at Sandy Point Beach; taking care of County-installed landscaping; and installing park-related signage.
Special Projects for 2023: The County is in search of funding for the repaving of a regional trail southwest of Gull Lake, which will provide an active transportation corridor for pedestrians and cyclists, Sandy Point, and the existing trail between Bentley and the provincial parks at Gull Lake. The signalization project for the Hwy 12 and Hwy 2 interchange has been tendered and awarded. Construction is to begin January 2023.
Development and Subdivision Activity: The County has received 175 development permit applications and 29 subdivision applications thus far in 2022 and has approved nearly $51 million worth of new construction. This includes 85 new dwelling units across the County.
The Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan: The Alberta Professional Planners Institute has recognized the Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan with the 2022 Award of Merit for its comprehensive planning approach and cutting-edge regional planning approach. The Plan is a successful collaboration between Lacombe County, Red Deer County, the Town of Sylvan Lake, and five summer villages surrounding Sylvan Lake (the Summer Village of Birchcliff, Summer Village of Jarvis Bay, Summer Village of Half Moon Bay, Summer Village of Norglenwold, and Summer Village of Sunbreaker Cove). It defines the future of the Plan Area from the lens of sustainable land use while building a vibrant community in the area.
South of Highway 11 (East of Haynes) Area Structure Plan: The County is in the public participation phase of the South of Highway 11 (East of Haynes) Area Structure Plan. A draft Plan was crafted based on initial feedback from the community. Following the second round of engagement, County staff will fine-tune the Plan to meet the desires and expectations of the community before it goes to Council. This Area Structure Plan is intended to replace the South of Highway 11 Area Multi-Lot Country Residential Outline Plan adopted in 2001.
Economic Development Strategy: The County has hired a consultant to create our very first Economic Development Strategy! The purpose of the Strategy is to foster a targeted approach to economic growth and development in the County, and to provide existing and potential businesses with a structure to be supported by the County.
Eagle’s Quay: After a long pause in new construction, the County has approved four development permits for new dwellings in Eagle’s Quay on Sylvan Lake in 2022. While construction of the new subdivision was complete as of 2008, there was a delay in the sale of lots, which did not pick up until 2021. The total estimated construction value of the four new homes is $3.19 million.
Degraff’s Phase 2B: The developer of Degraff’s RV Resort has completed construction of Phase 2B, which will contain 23 bareland condominium units. The development now has a total of 153 units.
The Slopes of Sylvan Lake: The Slopes continues to build with a total of two development permits being issued for new dwellings in 2022, in addition to the five approved in 2021. The developer has completed construction of the water treatment plant and the County has issued a Construction Completion Certificate.
Alberta Views RV and Golf Resort: The developer has commenced construction on a 100-stall recreational vehicle seasonal campground with two washrooms, 104 vehicle parking space, a playground, small pool, six pickleball courts, and a trail to a water feature. The development is located on the site of a pre-existing golf course north of Eckville. The developer has completed the construction of the campground, playground, and internal trails, and has completed the required upgrades to Range Road 3-4, but construction of the pickleball courts is yet to occur.
Sandy Point RV Resort and RV Park: The developer of Sandy Point has begun construction of their campground expansion, which will include 275 additional seasonal lots.