2016 wasn’t a wonderful year on many fronts, with economic uncertainty continuing to grip Alberta in its fist, but Stettler powered through strong.
While the community isn’t unaffected, it is weathering the storm better than some towns, according to Town of Stettler Mayor Dick Richards.
“The past year was a good year for the Town of Stettler,” the mayor said. “We, as most communities, have felt the impact of the economic downturn. Yet we remain confident in the strength of this great province, and am sure 2017 will bring great things too.”
The economic uncertainty remains the town’s biggest concern as it plans its budget for the coming year, factoring in decreased grant amounts, opportunities, and new taxes and levies, including the much reviled carbon tax.
Despite the hits to the wallets, the community – both personal and business – are still spending money in Stettler, investing in upgrading buildings and businesses, starting small businesses, and keeping existing retailers in business.
“Although not immune from the economic impact of the current environment, the business environment in Stettler remains healthy,” Richards said. “I think this has been accomplished through good management and the ability of local business to diversify to meet the challenges they face.”
There is no better time of the year to see that success than at Christmas, the mayor noted, as locals come out in droves to support the local businesses at events like “Moonlight Madness” and the “Night Before the Night Before.”
Some of the upcoming major projects for this year include the initial stages of the phase 2 project at the Stettler Recreation Centre (SRC). It’s a place Richards spends a lot of time at during the winter months, as his children are involved in sports. He never hesitates to praise staff for their contribution in keeping the facility top-notch.
“I spend a lot of time at the SRC,” he said. “I hear what people say. They’re amazed such a small town has such excellent facilities.”
Though nothing is yet set in stone, it’s inevitable that the facility will play host to some major tournaments, as the double ice-pad and local hotels and restaurants make Stettler an appealing location for zone and provincial playoffs, according to the mayor.
Stettler’s summer sporting facilities can’t be ignored either, as the many ball fields and soccer pitches also play host to their fair share of tournaments and playoff series.
At the start of 2016, Richards noted the economic uncertainty made it difficult for the town to plan for programs in the community, as the trickle-down effect of the economic slump is felt through decreased funding.
However, with agreements in place and what appears to be an undaunted Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grant, it’s easier for staff to plot out the community’s course over the coming year.
According to the mayor, one thing the town won’t do, though, is slash taxes. While it would be nice to be able to offer a zero tax increase, it’s easy to fall behind on projects – some of which are vital – that result in larger bills down the road. Water/waste water projects planned for this year take advantage of both money raised in taxes and grants from the government.
The previous year had started with an unexpected fiscal disaster, as a leak in one of Stettler’s lagoon cells was found. While the leak was found quickly and before any damaging amount of effluent was released, investigation into the leak revealed a degraded lagoon liner.
With repair bills expected to be millions, and the project being absolutely required, the town had to axe a handful of capital projects to make it possible.
“Remediation on the lagoons has gone well so far, and we anticipate a completion date of July 2017,” Richards said. “Staff demonstrated their ability to think quick on their feet, pushing off other projects to concentrate our financial resources on the lagoons.”
Richards said it’s the town’s hope to bring back those projects, but staff are awaiting the upcoming provincial budget to see if funding will be available.