County rejects call to declare ag disaster zone

A motion made by councillor Dave Grover to declare the County of Stettler an agricultural disaster zone was not supported.

A motion made by councillor Dave Grover to declare the County of Stettler an agricultural disaster zone was not supported by county staff at the Wednesday, Aug. 12 meeting.

Grover explained that pockets of dry conditions throughout the county has already hit crop-growers hard and now are putting the county’s ranchers in jeopardy. With no pasture to graze on and hay crops weak from the dry conditions across the province, ranchers are looking at either having to liquidate herds or move them to greener pastures. Meanwhile, hay and feed is being brought in for drought areas, and Grover told council it was important the county get on the disaster list so the ranchers could take advantage of programs to access the feed and deferred taxation programs.

Quinton Beaumont, director of agricultural services for the county, noted that while there are dry conditions in some areas of the county, the conditions are nowhere near as dry as they were in 2002 or 2009, the last times the county declared an agricultural disaster.

Beaumont was also wary of declaring an agricultural disaster because several areas in the county aren’t suffering from drought conditions.

Dry, certainly, but not so dry that it would be a disaster“I don’t want us to be seen as the boy who cried wolf,” Beaumont said.

In an interview with the Independent after the meeting, Beaumont explained that a lot of the programs available to ranchers in an agricultural disaster are available any time, through speaking with financial managers.

For example, a taxation deferral program offered by the provincial and federal governments to agricultural disaster zones can be arranged outside of the zones through applications, he said.

The deferral would allow ranchers to liquidate their herds without having to pay taxes until the next year. That would leave them enough capital to buy new cattle in the spring.

At the meeting, council agreed with Beaumont, not wanting to declare disaster at the first sign of trouble. However, they did want to make the province aware of the difficulties parts of the county were experiencing, and so decided to write a letter indicating the trouble.

That would have much of the same effect as declaring a disaster, Beaumont said later. With the province aware, it will send people to monitor the situation.

Dog Bylaw update passes first readingThe County of Stettler had asked staff to review its dog control bylaw earlier this year after a resident’s dog was killed by two pit bulls running loose.

Though the owners of the pit bulls were fined by a judge, the owner of the killed dog, Wanda Watson, said she felt the county’s bylaws weren’t strong enough.

With the case before the courts, the county could not address the bylaw. Once it was done, however, staff reviewed the bylaw, checking with legal counsel.

“Our current bylaw has not been reviewed in six years,” John Bishop, director of protective services, explained.

Council undertook the first reading of the bylaw at the meeting. It was noted by staff that the bylaw was found to be “more than adequate” through scrutiny in court, but that the procedure for impounding and releasing vicious dogs back to their owners came into question. Minor changes to the bylaw also clarify what sort of behaviour is punishable by the bylaw.

Changes (in bold) include:

The owner of a dog is guilty of breaking the bylaw if their dog chases or harasses any person, animal, bicycle or motor vehicle

The owner of a dog is guilty of breaking the bylaw if their dog attacks, injures or kills any person or animal

All impounded dogs, including vicious dogs, are kept for no less than seven days (which do not count Sundays and holidays). At the end of the seven day period, an application for the redemption of the vicious dog by its owner will be considered by the bylaw enforcement officer.

The first reading of the bylaw passed, but the second reading was scheduled to be heard in a public forum at 1 p.m. on Sept. 9. Written submissions in favour or against the bylaw will be received by the county until this date, and verbal submissions can be made at the meeting.

County chooses new animal control services contractorThe county received notice from Alberta Animal Services terminating its contract effective Aug. 1. The contract was to have been in effect from May 1, 2015 until April 30, 2016, and provided for a minimum of two one-hour patrols per month, and any further call-outs to be charged as special patrols at a rate of $100/hour.

County received the notice of termination on June 15, citing the lack of cost-effectiveness to make the two patrols per month.

The company offered a revised contract, stipulating that no regular patrols would be made, but the company would respond to complaints as special call-outs. While the rate of $100/hr remained the same, there would be a charge of a minimum of three hours.

County staff located a second contractor, Old MacDonald Kennels in the Ponoka area. County staff solicited information from the Kennels, who indicated they would be willing to consider a contract. The company would provide the two patrols, and call-outs at a cost of $85/hr, with no minimum charge per call-out. Though the kennel typically only holds impounded animals for three days, it was willing to hold the animals for the seven days required by the county’s bylaws.

If the animals were not claimed, the kennel would help adopt the animals out. It is also a no-kill shelter, which spays/neuters, microchips and vaccinates dogs and cats before they animals are adopted out.

According to Bishop, who said he spoke with several of the municipalities that use the services of the kennels, “all have very favourable comments and are completely satisfied with (Old MacDonald’s) services.”

In the end, Bishop recommended the county go with Old MacDonald Kennels, and councillors agreed, voting to approach the kennel with a contract.

County hands out 4H scholarshipCounty resident Aaryn Lynham is the 2015 recipient of the county’s 4H bursary. Lynham will be going to college to study communications in September, with a focus on public relations and a minor in French.

Land sales registration going ahead as planned

A request from some residents from south shore properties along Buffalo Lake that were subject to a series of bylaws earlier this year, which sold parcels of land to adjacent owners to deal with encroachment issues and rezoned county land as environmental reserve was defeated at council.

Lorraine Robinson travelled from Ventura, Calif. to speak to council about the issue, claiming that the process was flawed and that a councillor acted out of line and should have recused himself.

She referred to councillor Joe Gendre, whom Robinson said threatened some landowners while favouring others. She also said he and his brother, councillor Ernie Gendre, should have recused themselves from the vote – which would have then been defeated instead of passed.

Reeve Wayne Nixon said that council was not able to deal with the accusations, but could deal with the request to delay the registration of landsales through a vote, which was defeated later in the meeting when the matter came up.

Under the Municipal Governance Act (MGA), members of council are required to recuse themselves from matters when they are directly involved, their spouse or children are involved, or parents are involved. In this particular case, the Gendres have siblings who are landowners, but they themselves are not.

Furthermore, the Gendre brothers originally recused themselves from proceedings until advised they were not under obligation to do so, and in fact could be considered in dereliction of their responsibilities and dismissed if they did so.