Economic uncertainty biggest concern for Mayor in 2016

Economic uncertainty over the next several months will be the biggest challenge for the Town of Stettler, according to Mayor Dick Richards.

Economic uncertainty over the next several months will be the biggest challenge for the Town of Stettler to overcome, Mayor Dick Richards believes.

Richards looked back on 2015 and made some predictions for the community going into 2016.

“Our geographic area means we’re weathering the storm,” Richards said of the crash in the oil industry, which buoys much of Alberta’s industry. “We’re still heavily agriculture-based. It’s our backbone.”

He said despite the shrinking going on in much of the province, Stettler continues to grow and businesses are re-investing, upgrading, updating and building new buildings.

“People are still spending money, so that shows confidence in the area,” he said.

Since Stettler is centrally located in the province, the mayor believes 2016 will make Stettler a destination for people to visit in 2016, especially through sports.

“I spend a lot of time at the SRC (Stettler Recreation Centre) because of my kids, and I hear what people say,” he said. “They’re amazed such a small town has such excellent facilities.”

In 2015, the community hosted several tournaments and championships in hockey, baseball and soccer, including provincials. Richards said he hopes the same will happen again this year.

“I know people are working on it,” he said.

One thing the turn in the economy did was to make the mayor and council realize just how fortunate they were for Stettler’s diversity.

“It could be way worse,” he said. “We were taking things for granted.”

As economic woes plague the province, though, they could trickle down to affect Stettler, as the community is reliant on provincial grant programs and funding to stay on top of major municipal projects, like roads and water.

“The challenge is the uncertainty of what the future holds,” Richards said, explaining that it makes it hard to plan when town staff aren’t sure if programs will continue or be downsized.

“A community can fall behind very quickly (on major municipal projects) if you don’t stay on top of it,” he said. He noted that the town’s staff were diligently watching out for any surprises with Alberta’s new NDP government.

2016 will also be the first full year of the recreation agreement between the Town of Stettler and County of Stettler, an agreement brokered by a provincial mediator over the summer in 2015. The agreement put to bed decades of bickering and back-and-forth over recreation funding.

It’s something the mayor said he’s extremely proud of.

“We were in a place where everyone was ready to sit down and get this done,” he said. “Both sides were able to work it out, and I look forward to continuing to build this great relationship.”