There are only a few weeks left in 2021, and we are looking back over the highlights of the past 12 months.
2021 Municipal Election Results: The most significant change at Lacombe County happened in October, with the 2021 Municipal Election. Former Reeve Paula Law did not run for re-election, as well as long-time councillors Ken Wigmore and Keith Stephenson. Following the election, Lacombe County welcomed three new councillors: Dwayne West (Division 4), Ken Weenink (Division 5), and Allan Wilson (Division 6). Following the Organizational Meeting, Lacombe County Council appointed Division 3 Councillor Barb Shepherd as Lacombe County Reeve and Division 1 Councillor John Ireland as Deputy Reeve.
Community Services Leadership Changes: With the retirement of long-time staff member Keith Boras, the County’s Community Services will have a new Director in 2022, as Dion Burlock is set to guide this department into the future for Lacombe County.
Joint Council Meeting Success: In December, a Joint Meeting of Council between Lacombe County and the City of Lacombe occurred. The meeting – and future joint meetings – was intended to foster collaboration and cooperation between the regional partners to achieve efficient results for the residents of both municipalities. This process allows our Councils to work directly together, allowing community groups and citizens more straightforward access to both Councils.
Peace Officers: Along with successfully operating the School Resource Officer program with Wolf Creek Schools, the Community Peace Officer program completed another year of successful patrols in Lacombe County, as well as in our partnering Villages of Clive, Alix, Bentley, and Alix. Preparations are being made to move to electronic ticketing along with all other Provincial Agencies.
Solar Panels: In May, SkyFire Energy completed the installation of a 115.2 KwDC solar photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof of the shop building. This system is comprised of 288 solar modules, two inverters, and 144 optimizers. The solar panels are conservatively estimated to produce 122,100 kWh/year of electricity in its first year.
Fire Services: Fire departments within the County experienced average call volumes and successfully trained many new staff to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1001 Level. Restrictions in gathering placed by the pandemic made this problematic, but the dedication of the volunteers persisted in making this happen.
Agriculture: The Ag Department completed another busy year working with landowners on weed and pest control. As we are entering year three of the Ag Plastics Recycling, the program is gaining traction seeing an increase in the volume of both grain bags and twine collected.
Utilities: Final connections in both the Sylvan Lake Communal Servicing and Wild Rose Projects were completed this year, adding many new customers to these utilities. These connections, along with their regular duties looking after several municipal utilities and two sizeable regional utility transmission systems, have challenged this department's staff.
Municipal Election: The County held a successful 2021 municipal election. In addition to municipal elections for Councillor in divisions 4, 5 and 6, the County also facilitated voting for the provincial senate and referendum votes, as well as for public school trustees. Altogether, the County hosted seven locations for advance voting and another 17 locations on Election Day.
Lacombe County’s County Connection: In the Spring of 2021, the County launched its new County Connection intranet site. This site connects all County staff to County information and resources. As part of this rollout, all County staff now have a County email account and can access County information regardless of their location.
Cyber Security Policy and Program: In response to ever-growing cyber threats, Lacombe County Council approved the County’s Cyber Security Policy. This policy outlines the responsibilities for developing and maintaining cyber security initiatives to prevent and, if necessary, respond to cyber events. Future activities under this plan include additional staff training and the development of a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. Both of these initiatives will take place in 2022.
Multi-Year Capital Budgeting: The County updated its multi-year capital budgeting process in 2021. Instead of multi-year budgets being presented to Council by departments throughout the year, budgets are now consolidated into one document and provide Council with an integrated view of future capital needs for the County and how it will fund these capital projects. With the multi-year budget now developed, staff will be working on updating the County’s reserve policies and long-term funding strategies to ensure capital expenditures can be sustained into the future.
Paving Program: Lacombe County has 2,192 kilometres of roads to look after. Included in that total are 1,778 km of gravel roads (including 121 km machinery roads) and 414 km of paved roads (including 4 km of cold mix). We have spent a great deal of time and effort over the years to take our old paved roads and get them wider and strengthen them to handle today’s traffic volumes and size. Because of this, we are confident that our paved road system is second to none.
In 2021, we improved our gravel road to paved roads designation by adding 4.2 km of new pavement. Additionally, we overlayed 36 kilometres of existing paved roads.
Bridge Construction: The bridge construction projects take into consideration future County road construction projects. Five structures were tendered out this year.
Road Construction Projects: Each year, County forces plan on rebuilding 16-19 kms of roads; however, this year, we were able to complete 21.18 kms of roads. The additional 5 kms of rebuilt roads were possible because of favourable weather during the construction season and our competent crew.
Gravel Program: Generally, one-third of the gravel roads are placed on our proposed road construction schedule each year. This ensures County roads are passable for traffic under normal spring / wet conditions. This year, the County’s proposed gravel program was 477.1 kms, but due to the favorable weather, a total of 555.2 km of gravel roads were completed (about 16% more than the expected amount).
Custom Equipment Projects: The shop staff are busy with new equipment. New arrivals require work to customize units for their intended use. Rig-up projects include gravel/plow trucks, pickup trucks, skid steer, trailers, rock rake, agriculture tractors, and fire department requirements, such as a new unit for the Eckville Fire Department, which was built in house by Lacombe County staff.
Parks and Trails: Lacombe County's parks team maintains 20km of trails, and facilitates audits and inspections of County playgrounds, sweeps the trails in spring, brushes, mows, paints, installs swim lines at Sandy Point Beach, landscapes, and installs signs.
Special Projects: Intersectional lighting at Highway 12 and Range Road 27-4 (by the Lacombe County Administration Office) was complete.
Development and Subdivision Activity: Development applications and estimated construction values have shown a dramatic increase in 2021 compared to 2020. Development permits are up almost 25% since last year, and Lacombe County is at over $90 million in estimated construction value, which is more than double the value in 2020. This is the highest the County has recorded since collecting construction values over five years ago. Subdivision application numbers have also increased this year, with 48 applications in 2021 (compared to 30 applications for the same time period in 2020).
The Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan: The Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP) was adopted after nearly three years of work. The plan is an important initiative as it endeavours to protect the environmental integrity of Sylvan Lake while still allowing for growth. This IDP had the first ever virtual and in-person Public Hearing for Lacombe County, as a way to ensure everyone who wanted to participate was able to, despite COVID-19 restrictions. With eight partner municipalities involved in the hearing, it was no small feat to pull it together. Fortunately, it went off very smoothly and set the groundwork for virtual public engagement initiatives, which the County will continue to use for future engagement opportunities.
Economic Development: Lacombe County hired its first Economic Development Officer to promote and champion economic development in the region. Monica Bartman came to the County from the Lacombe and District Chamber of Commerce with experience already working with some of Lacombe County’s businesses. She is developing the Terms of Reference for an Economic Development Strategy for the County, which will be initiated in 2022 and will include extensive community input. This Economic Development Strategy will guide Lacombe County through a more targeted approach on economic development.
The Slopes: The Slopes development has seen a renewed interest in lake living in 2021, with five (5) new homes approved this year. This development on Sylvan Lake was originally approved in 2012, and the subdivision was developed in 2014. Until 2021, only a duplex show home was built due to economic factors affecting the housing market in Central Alberta. With all the homes nearing completion, the development's water treatment plant is progressing nicely and will be completed in time to service these new homes.
Wilson's Beach Estates: There has been an influx in residential activity at Wilson’s Beach Estates in 2021 with five applications for new residences in 2021 totalling over $2 million in construction value. In addition, Wilson's Beach Estates has completed the connection of the development to a new communal waste water treatment system. The new system is a partnership with the system being built for DeGraffs RV Resort, and is designed to potentially act as a regional system for the area of Gull Lake.