An audience of over 250 people packed the Outlook Civic Centre on Thursday night, October 17 as elected officials and staff with the Town of Outlook hosted a public meeting. The evening’s itinerary included a slide presentation on the town’s current activities, including a look at finances that opened the books on what’s being budgeted and what’s being spent, but it didn’t take long for a growing number of ratepayers to step up to the microphone and have their say.
Unsurprisingly, the abrupt closure of the town’s recycling depot and newly signed two-year contract with waste management disposal giant Loraas Disposal North Ltd. was at the forefront of questioning and comments from local residents.
In attendance and seated on the stage during the meeting were four out of Outlook’s six councillors, including Maureen Applin, Floyd Childerhose, Donna Smith, and Kevin Grotheim. Absent was Mayor Ross Derdall due to a private health matter, as well as councillors Dave Simonson and Kyle McLeod. Laurie Tollefson once again served as moderator, having done so at a previous public meeting held in January.
Informational packages were available upon arrival for those in attendance until they had run out due to the exceptionally large turnout. They included a look at the town’s revenue, expenses and where money is currently being spent now and in the foreseeable future. Leading a presentation on all the numbers was Outlook’s newly hired Chief Administrative Officer, Huguette Lutz.
A look at 2018’s revenue sources showed some of the town’s biggest sources of incoming funds for the year, including taxes and unconditional grants ($2,936,616), water and sewer service fees and grants ($949,345), licenses/rental fees/interest ($407,756), and recreation facilities fees, grants & donations ($289,034). Among the biggest figures in last year’s operating expenditures were $1,590,403 for salaries, wages and benefits; $1,301,606 for waste management, cemetery maintenance and doctor residence costs; $632,919 for street and community maintenance services; and $572,898 for water and sewer services.
The biggest attention-grabbing number in last year’s capital expenses belonged to the new Van Raay and Community Swimming Pool, which gobbled up a sizable portion of the $1,209,851 for recreation facilities and services, or 83.57%.
Keeping on the topic of the pool, it was revealed that the facility’s total revenue for the year was $86,577.97, while expenses amounted to $91,894.46. The total cost of the pool’s construction was $2,185,922.75. So far this year, donations received for the pool have equated to $118,292.30. It should be said that, as always, donations are greatly appreciated for the new pool.
As it relates to the more current numbers, 2019’s total budgeted revenue is $5,390,182, while the total budgeted expenses equate to $5,377,106.
Also provided was a look at comparative revenue and expenditure numbers dating back to 2014.
“You can see on the chart that there’s been a surplus of revenue every year except for 2018,” said Lutz. “That was a slight deficit due to having to accrue some expenses, even though they weren’t paid in 2018, they were accrued in 2018, so we had to record it as an expense in last year’s fiscal year. If you had looked at the numbers on a cash basis, it would’ve been a break-even.”
The hard numbers behind the operations of the now-closed recycling depot show that the operating costs of the facility were extremely higher than the revenue that was generated. What follows is a five-year breakdown of the depot’s costs versus revenue:
Costs - $192,703.18
Revenue - $21,857.36
Costs - $203,763.96
Revenue - $24,150.98
Costs - $221,722.02
Revenue - $24,403.79
Costs - $306,053.09
Revenue - $21,049.84
Costs - $303,571.04
Revenue - $16,446.39
Budgeted Costs - $199,672.00
Budgeted Revenue - $18,000.00
It was said that if council were to continue with the current recycling depot operations, the quarterly fees would need to increase to an estimated $80 to break even, equating to a total of $320 per year. The town’s estimation is that with the change in the recycling program to Loraas, quarterly fees will need to increase to approximately $36 ($144 per year) in order to break even.
Eloise Layton, whose daughter Taylor has run a successful and popular recycling pickup service in Outlook for six years, asked council whether her service could continue after reading the verbiage in a handout that was provided to local businesses surrounding the changes to the recycling program.
“What interests me is on paragraph three of the recycling handout here, the last sentence says, ‘You may also opt to go with a different company all together, ultimately the choice is yours’,” said Eloise. “I’m just wondering if Taylor’s customers choose to stay with her, if they could, and she wouldn’t have to be pushed out?”
“We did sign a two-year contract with Loraas, so they are going to be the supplier of the recycling service for the next two years,” said Councillor Applin. “Depending on how things go during that time, we can certainly revisit that. We really thank you and Taylor for the service you’ve offered for the last number of years, it’s been very much appreciated, and this was a really, really tough decision for us.”
Layton expressed further frustration on social media after the meeting, noting that Taylor’s current customers in the residential parts of town have no choice in the matter and are now automatically Loraas customers, and sharing that even if her customers could stay with her, there is now nowhere to take the recyclables.
However, one of the consistent criticisms over the closure of the recycling depot among those in the audience was the absence of any advance notice that it was in danger of closing in the first place.
Tony Peter asked about the absence of any advance notice related to the closure, noting that residents had been told that there would be consultations and informational meetings.
“We were told a long time ago that there was going to be consultation and information to the community, and we get word on Tuesday,” said Tony. “I didn’t see it in any of the minutes before this, so when was this decided? I hate to ask the question, but was it decided in-camera? It shouldn’t be.”
Councillor Grotheim implored Peter to look back at the numbers surrounding the depot and noted that he must’ve had access to the data as Peter once served on town council, stressing that the Town simply couldn’t afford to continually lose large sums of money each year, dating back to the depot’s 2014 numbers with the data provided. Peter acquiesced but responded that ratepayers were unaware of the numbers and statistics surrounding the depot until after the decision had already been made to close it, terminate the affected employees, and then announce the Town’s partnership with Loraas.
Grotheim said with the new partnership and service, it’s an example of council making the decisions to help ratepayers with the services that are required while also looking to lessen fees.
“What we’re doing is providing a recycling service for the ratepayers at a cheaper fee,” said Grotheim. “I think it’ll probably be a better service because it’ll now be curb-side, so now instead of hauling to the bins, it’s right at your house and makes it easier for people to recycle, and therefore there should be less going into our landfill, also. If we can provide that at a cheaper rate, that’s what our job is to do and save you guys money and give you the services that you require.”
“We looked at the numbers, it was not viable to maintain the service, and there were alternatives that we explored,” said Applin. “But when you’ve got employees whose jobs are at stake, you don’t want to be bantering that discussion around in the public for months or weeks or whatever. It was not taken lightly. The service has not been stopped; we are still recycling – we’re just doing it differently.”
After being pressed further on the lack of advance notice to ratepayers, it was revealed that the decision to close the recycling depot was made at the most recent council meeting on October 9, but the numbers behind the facility had been looked at for “months” and the Town was exploring its options on how to move forward feasibly.
As for the employees who were terminated reportedly without advance notice of their own, council pointed to advice from legal representation.
“The process that happened was what was suggested to us by legal,” said Grotheim. “We had to do that process a certain way to keep things on the up and up, I suppose you could say.”
Outside of the recycling depot closure, there were a number of other topics that residents were seeking answers to and action from their elected officials, including safety around the community, the state of the town’s water infrastructure, and where things stand with other initiatives such as an official Strategic Community Plan.
In addition to his questions surrounding the depot, Tony Peter also asked about safety for those who are frequent walkers around town, noting that Outlook is a walking community and that there are places right now that are “dangerous”, including a tripping point near the town offices building that he implored the Town do something about. Peter also touched on the path from Carter Crescent down into the Outlook Regional Park, which he believes is also a troublesome route.
“I know that I’ve mentioned this before and I’ve been told, ‘Well, it’s not our jurisdiction’,” he said. “I don’t care whose jurisdiction it is, it’s dangerous! People walk from town into the park and from the park back up into town, and I think it’s something that the Town and the park need to get together on and fix it. Somebody’s going to get hurt. We’ve had a couple of falls already, and I don’t want to see the Town get sued.”
Responding to Peter’s queries surrounding walking safety and for the Town to do something, Councillor Childerhose simply remarked, “OK”, while Councillor Smith said the path down into the park would be added to her list as she serves on the park board.
Peter also inquired about the Town’s current water system, pointing to the issues this past summer in which there was a brief restriction on running excess water in town due to a low water intake from the river.
“As far as right now, the problem is basically sort of solved because the level of the river has increased,” said Applin. “My understanding is that Lake Diefenbaker is full or pretty close to capacity, so water has been coming out and our river intake is finally covered and we’re not sucking sand, so we’re fine for the short term. But one of the nine infrastructure projects that the engineers have identified is a new intake pump for the river, and that project is $10 million. We’re hopeful that it’s one of the ones that will get funded, and certainly one of the projects we’re looking at going forward.
Everything in terms of our infrastructure is at critical point at this point.”
Shelley Luedtke asked about the current status of the Town’s Community Plan initiative, reminding council and ratepayers of the presentations that were held in May 2018 by Alberta-based consultant Chris Fields to help form an overall community plan for both Outlook and the RM of Rudy. Fields was then set to compile data into a report that would’ve been submitted back to the Town and the project would then continue from there. Fast forward almost a year and a half later, and the project has been shelved for now while the Town addresses other matters.
“That report has still not been received, and that project has been put in abeyance because we had other major cans of worms that needed to be sorted out before we could even begin to look forward, and the timing just wasn’t right for it,” said Councillor Applin. “Chris is still on board with us, and he has compiled the data from our gatherings, and he will be coming back to town to present his results and work with council and the Town to implement that strategic plan. At the time, I guess we probably jumped the gun a little bit because we had way bigger issues that we needed to sort out rather than strategic planning.”
There’s no set timeline for moving forward on the Community Plan project, but Applin said she hoped there would be something completed within the next year.
Brad Harrison touched on the added heavy traffic that is going to increase the weight onto Outlook streets due to the Loraas trucks coming in, asking if the roads could handle it.
“On your utility taxes, there’s a garbage portion to it which includes recycling,” responded Grotheim. “We were running about a $70 deficit, so that money was being robbed out of the municipal side of the taxes to compensate. So, we’re trying to correct that part now, and then those funds can now hopefully be diverted to the streets and other things so we can use the money properly and not waste it and put it to other uses like fixing our streets. Therefore, we should hopefully get improvements by saving money on one hand and then spending that money where it’s needed somewhere else.”
Maureen Weiterman asked about the Town’s contract with Loraas and the costs associated with it. Applin noted that it was based on a per-household cost, sitting at approximately $5.32 per household plus a carbon levy, but the total cost was unknown because it hasn’t been determined what the carbon levy would be.
Weiterman asked about a ‘ballpark’ figure and shared, “I don’t know if I would sign a contract if I didn’t know how much it was going to cost.” Grotheim responded that if you went by a formula of $36 per household multiplied by approximately 998 households, that would be a “rough ballpark figure”.
Another hot topic was the Mann Street subdivision in Outlook, which in the eyes of many has become something of a black mark among the community’s many initiatives and to date has carried a total cost so far of $1,185,758.48. Barrie Spigott asked what it might cost to complete the project and whether it was going to be finished “in our lifetime”.
“We can hope,” said Applin. “Unfortunately we’re not sure what the costs are, and it really is kind of a moot point because the subdivision had never been applied for through Community Planning, so there are no lots that are designated on that subdivision yet, and we have a fair few hurdles to go through before we could likely get approval from Community Planning for that subdivision.”
Following questions from the audience, the provided agenda listed closing statements but for whatever reason, they did not take place. Tollefson thanked the healthy audience for coming out and engaging themselves in what’s happening in their community, inviting them to stick around for refreshments as cake was being served to celebrate the monumental funding that was announced (see article ‘Town Receiving Record Funding for Landfill Project’). As well, a Loraas representative was in attendance to speak with people about the upcoming change in recycling within the community.