There may not have been the biggest crowd at last week’s public town meeting held at the Outlook Civic Centre – increasingly freezing and unapologetic weather conditions perhaps being a factor – but the hundred or so who came out may have gone home with a clearer picture of the direction their community is headed in the future.
Held on Wednesday night, January 30, the event marked the second time that Outlook’s mayor and town council hosted a public forum designed to catch people up on local projects and directives, as well as answer questions from those in attendance. The first public meeting took place on November 30 of 2017, and while council intended to hold another one during 2018, circumstances prevented it from being scheduled.
Moderated by Laurie Tollefson, this second forum included information booklets being handed out to attendees that highlighted the Town’s challenges and achievements in the past year, an act designed to show that the Town wants to be as open with residents as possible because council “feel transparency is essential”, Tollefson noted.
Present for the meeting was Mayor Ross Derdall and all of town council; David Simonson, Maureen Applin, Floyd Childerhose, Kevin Grotheim, Kyle McLeod and Donna Smith.
Derdall went over a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted the information included in the booklets being handed out prior to the meeting, allowing the audience to follow along with each slide.
A quote that council was given spoke to the aging that Outlook’s overall infrastructure system has endured over the years; ‘You had a new car 15 years ago. You drove the devil out of it. You never changed the oil and the engine is about to drop out. How do you like it so far?’
“That’s not a council representation, that came from an engineering firm in Saskatoon that we asked to do a complete study of our town infrastructure – that’s sewer, water, water plant, etc., and that was their opening statement, and we kind of got scared,” said Ross. “I don’t think things are quite that bad, but regardless, there are some serious issues that we have to look at and have been looking at.”
The PowerPoint adhered to a Challenge/Accomplishment formula in which the former was highlighted first, followed by the latter.
Challenges in the ‘General’ category included a lack of consistent inspection and servicing for facilities and equipment, as well as not having a Buy-Local Policy. Those have been rectified, with a Buy-Local Policy now in place and service agreements in place for all mechanicals in town-owned buildings, as well as the replacement of the furnace in the Civic Centre, and a new compactor for the landfill.
The Mann Street subdivision was another topic highlighted, with the info noting that the infrastructure had to be redone twice, there was no warranty on the initial work, the subdivision was not filed with Community Planning, and over $800,000 having been spent to date (not including labour). So far, sewer lines have been installed in the area, and an application will be made to Community Planning for subdivision approval.
Storm drainage was another topic, and it’s a costly one at that. With the east-side system maxed out, planning is underway and the Town is looking at an estimated cost of $1.2 million. So far, an infrastructure master plan has been completed, and the Town is examining their cost options.
Challenges surrounding the new swimming pool included the buildings (change rooms, mechanical room) not being included in the initial budget and planning phase, and neither was landscaping and fencing. Approximately $1.6 million has been spent to date on the facility, and it will carry an operating price tag of around $200,000/year. Construction so far has been completed, and a grand opening for the pool is slated for this summer, possibly the first part of June, but nothing has been set in stone.
Derdall also credited Rick Pederson, the pool project manager, with saving the Town “tens of thousands of dollars” with his insight and expertise.
The landfill was a major topic of discussion, and the challenges include having no partnerships initiated prior to development, being fully funded by the Town, no written agreement with engineers, the project not being tendered out at inception, and approximately $2.3 million having been spent to date. To date, Phase 1 construction has been completed, and an operating permit has been obtained for Phase 1. The Town is also examining operational partnership possibilities.
Touching on governance, there were over $100,000 in outstanding utility bills that were due, and tax enforcement policies had not been consistent.
“I was called down to the town office, and we were owed $120,00 in water bills and arrears, so we took immediate action on that and now we’re just down to a couple of thousand dollars,” said Ross. “Taxes are now over 90% current, which is a really good average.”
Some general accomplishments that the Town reached in the past year included:
- Selling ten commercial lots;
- Two new businesses in town and more interested;
- Increased communication with a new town website, Facebook pages, and public meetings;
- Columbarium installed at the cemetery;
- Strategic Planning underway;
- Town Beautification awarded four blooms from Communities in Bloom;
- The rodeo returning to town this August;
- A corner park developed.
Touching on community water rates after a question had been submitted online, Councillor Applin noted that residents may need to get used to paying more in the future as the Town looks to re-examine the current layout.
“Outlook has currently some of the lowest water rates in the province, and incidentally, we’re also one of the highest water users in the province,” she said. “Our current system is designed for user-pay, as in the more you use, the more you pay, and we’ve not put on any water restrictions in the past few years, but if the time comes that we need to do that, we certainly will, and we’ve had talk around the table about conservation going forward. As the mayor had mentioned, we are currently going to be examining all of our utility rates and user fees during this coming year.”
One person who submitted a question online said the Town needs to realize that mistakes that had been made that affect the economics of the town cannot be fixed by raising taxes every single year.
“We live on Chow Crescent, and pay the price of a city lot,” the person wrote. “I’ve lived in numerous towns, and the taxes in this town are very high. I understand the town needs to bring an income, but economically, everyone is struggling, and raising taxes is not the answer to the economic problems of the town.”
Ross touched on how housing markets are evaluated and assessed by SAMA (Saskatchewan Assessment Management Association), and said that if tax increases are necessary in order to help pay for what Outlook may need, then they will happen.
“A little over two years ago, I was asked if I would raise taxes and I said ‘Yep’,” he said. “When the town increases our mill rate by one mill, it nets us approximately $160,000 in the bank, and that’s based on the town’s total assessment. Am I going to sit here and tell you you’re not going to get a tax increase or water increase? No, I’m not. In all probability, there will be an increase.”
Questions taken from the floor by those in attendance included the topics of acquiring government funding for infrastructure, the status of the Town’s strategic planning initiative, the status of the SkyTrail walking bridge, and if the Town should do more in advertising as it relates to tourism.
For those who couldn’t make it to this meeting, another one will take place in the spring after the Town of Outlook’s annual budget is finalized and approved, and the public will have a chance to look over the finite dollars and spending practices, as well as ask questions.