Submitted by Craig Widmer, Reeve
Happy New Year! As we look back on 2021 it’s clear it was a year of significant challenges and successes in the County of Forty Mile No. 8. As we look ahead with hope to the new year, council is committed to continue to provide sound financial oversight and provide high quality services to its many residents and businesses. There were many milestones for the County in 2021, too many to cover in a short review but some of the important ones are as follows:
The Municipal election was held on October 18th, 2021 and it resulted in a few new faces around the council table. We’d like to thank former Reeve Steven Wikkerink (8 years), Councilor Gerald Reimer (8 years) and Councilor Chantel Timmons (8 years) for their service to the Community. Their dedication to this community during the course of their terms is very much appreciated by all County residents. We’d like to welcome our new Councilor’s Allen Kuizenga (Division 5 – 40 Mile Park) and Don Drake (Division 6 – Burdett). No nominations were received for Division 7 and a by-election is set for February 14th, 2022. Nominations are open until January 17th, 2022 at 12:00 PM for any interested candidates.
The State of Agriculture
Our farming and ranching agriculture sector really struggled this year due to dry weather which resulted in low dryland crop yields and a lack of forage crops. Irrigation producers had a better year but the long dry period and smoke from wildfires impacted yields throughout the County. We marvel at the ways our producers continue to find ways to carry on during times of low yields and economic uncertainty.
Catching up on Infrastructure
The county’s Public Works Road Program and Agricultural Service Board programs went well in 2021. Finding and retaining staff continues to present challenges for the county as it does for many industries.
The county continues to maintain almost 3,000 miles of road. Two bridge sized culverts located in the eastern portion of the County were replaced in partnership with Alberta Transportation under the Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program (STIP) in early 2021. In November the County submitted two additional bridge files for funding under the Local Road Bridge Program.
In 2020, the previous council decided to proceed with the construction of the new administration building and a public works shop extension to house the agriculture department. When completed, this project will make operations more efficient by consolidating all departments to one location and will provide many years of service to County Residents. In February 2021 the tender closed and the contract for construction was awarded to Scott Builders Inc. of Red Deer. Ground breaking began in May and the projected completion is expected to be in June 2022.
Connectivity and Economic Development
In March 2021 Council passed a broadband internet policy and in September council passed a Broadband Strategy, a roadmap for future deployment of a high-speed open-access broadband network to work towards reducing the digital divide of those who have access to broadband and those who do not. This investment will provide opportunities for economic prosperity and social well-being, for now and for generations to come. The first part of that strategy is nearing completion along Highway No. 3 from Bow Island west past the Highway No. 879 intersection and is one of the initial steps identified in the broadband strategy to ensure the majority of residents and businesses have affordable, accessible and quality broadband access as resources and time permits. In time we expect this service to provide a cornerstone for new economic opportunities in the county.
Several wind and solar renewable projects by Capital Power, Suncor, Renewable Energy Systems Canada (RES), Alberta Solar One and BlueEarth Renewables began or completed construction in 2021.
Commercial building activity in the county continues with the completion of the new Western Tractor facility and the beginning of an expansion at the GS Dunn mustard processing facility at the location of the previous Spitz plant site. These projects not only give the local economy a boost during the construction phases but also provide opportunities for full time employment into the future.
As a whole, we are thankful to companies operating in the county that bring many positive benefits to our community including purchase of goods, supporting our restaurant and hospitality industry, supporting community initiatives such as the HALO rescue helicopter and many others.
The County received Municipal Stimulus Program funding for sewer lift station upgrades and sanitary collection main lining and replacements in the Hamlet of Burdett as well as potable water tie-ins to the Hamlets of Nemiscam and Orion. The Hamlet of Winnifred continues to grow and residents have expressed an interest in seeing raw water being supplied to the hamlet to enhance yards, trees and gardens. The County is proceeding with a capital project to install a pipeline running approximately 2 kilometers from the SMRID canal to the Hamlet of Winnifred to provide a raw water source for the community with the installation being completed by an area contractor. The expected completion date is scheduled for spring of 2022.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted our community and businesses in 2021 and there was a lot of uncertainty about restrictions. The county managed to get through the last year with minimal interruptions with staff and business functions all while adhering to Provincial health guidelines implemented by the Chief Medical Officer of Health. Measures were put in place to protect staff and the general public during the pandemic and we are grateful for the patience shown by residents and to our staff for stepping up during these difficult times to ensure services are still provided for our ratepayers.
Recreation and Planning
Intermunicipal Development Plans were completed with the Town of Bow Island and the County of Warner. A Recreation Needs Assessment was completed by Quantum Recreation for the Forty Mile Region in a partnership between the Village of Foremost, Town of Bow Island and the County of Forty Mile.
Development permits for residences and farm buildings have been constant despite the impacts of the pandemic on supply chains, work force and price increases.
It was lastt year the county participated in the Southern Alberta Ortho Photo Partnership with several other municipalities to obtain updated ortho photos of land in the municipality which we typically do on a three-year cycle. Photos are utilized by staff and ratepayers in many different ways, including sharing the last set with Google Maps and Bing Maps to make them accessible to as many County residents as possible. The County continues to invest in online mapping applications and hopes to make maps and tools available on our web site during the upcoming year.
The County of Forty Mile No. 8 has a strong financial position but it has been impacted by a reduction in the oil/gas industry as some pipelines and above ground infrastructure have been removed and their sites reclaimed. Diversification of the County’s tax base into renewables is helping to offset the effects to ratepayers and we anticipate strong growth in the tax base over the next several years. Council continues to prioritize fiscal responsibility while providing the services our citizens expect.
I’d like to close by thanking county ratepayers, staff, and my fellow councillors for their ongoing support and our CAO and his staff for compiling this information. Like all of you, I can only speculate what lies ahead. As we look forward with hope to a new year, I am certain that our great economic foundations, availability of agriculture and energy products, access to markets and labor will help us meet whatever the future holds.