Stettler Mayor Sean Nolls took some time recently to reflect on the challenges and accomplishments of the past year and chat about his vision for 2021.
“2020 is a hard year to summarize, because there was so much that went on,” said Nolls. “Every thing we did – no matter what – is overshadowed by the pandemic. It was just strange for everybody. And for some, it was a tragedy,” he added, noting the loss of life. “A lot of people also lost their jobs, so again, it’s really hard to look at the ‘positives’ in something that had so many ‘negatives’ to it,” he said.
“People were also isolated; they couldn’t see their family or friends – that sense of isolation is hard.
“And we all experienced it differently,” he said. That said, Nolls pointed to several good things that did occur around the community even in the midst of such challenging times.
“We were able to pass a budget that saw a zero per cent increase in taxes, and then a minus one on non-residential which was just the right thing to do,” he said. “We looked at the same thing when we did the interim budget in November for 2021. So as it sits right now, it’s a zero per cent increase for everything including utilities for 2021.
“Because we’ve had a lot of years of really responsible administration, it’s made things pretty easy because we have a reserve and we don’t have a heavy debt load. Every municipality has a some level of a debt load, but our’s is fairly small,” he explained, adding that the Town was also able to avoid lay-offs over the course of 2020 as well.
“We found a way to keep the staff productive. At the Rec Centre, for example, during the initial shutdown the entire pool staff fixed everything. They went through that place with a fine tooth comb,” he said. “That way, when it was ready to open – in stages the way it did open – everything was ready to go.
“Council’s position from day one was not to lay off anybody,” he said.
“Also, if you look at the business community, you can see that they wanted to provide. It wasn’t about making extra sales – it was about doing something right for the people of Stettler,” he pointed out.
”Whether it was doing curbside pick-up and finding a way to get things to people. They also went online – businesses that traditionally hadn’t done online sales were doing online sales.
“And of course, you saw the people of Stettler just embracing it, and really supporting those businesses,” he said, adding that some businesses even saw the best Christmas season they had ever had. “That’s because everyone was ‘supporting local’. And the businesses were really onboard to deliver that promise to the people of Stettler. It’s a cool community that way!
“This is also a self-sustaining community. We do everything that we can to support one another and it shows everyday. I think that as long as we stay on that path we will find a way.”
Nolls also pointed out how the annual Festival of Lights brought in $90,000 in donations via their online auction.
“People really stepped up and donated what was needed for the Festival of Lights. The Festival also stepped up and delivered a really awesome auction,” he explained. “And of course, the people stepped up and really started the bidding and ultimately made $90,000 – which is a lot for an online auction. They did us pretty proud!”
Another great example of community spirit has seen through the Town staff’s decision to take all the snow from the Recreation Centre and deliver it to the hill in West Stettler Park so that people can go tobogganing.
“That just shows that Stettler is really about people,” he said.
Looking into 2021, Nolls said that economic development is always at the top of the list.
“You really want to grow the community through jobs and services to make sure we have all of the services when people move here,” he added.
“That’s something we always strive for, and it’s something we’ve been working really hard on during this term – coming up with ways to attract businesses and to create jobs.”
Lower taxes in the region can help make those projects more feasible as well, he said. “The opportunities are there for us to be leaders in the province and in the country for manufacturing, for agriculture and for the oilfield of course. That’s my goal for this year – to see that.
“It’s not something I can control, but it’s something I can help (encourage) and something I can guide along. Hopefully we see that really start to happen. We are going to strive for it.”
On the personal side, coming through such an unprecedented time has served as a reminder of how important people really are, he said.
“The silver lining is people. You see people doing the right thing all of the time and helping one another out, and it reminds me that people are just so important – whether personally, professionally or publicly. They are so important to a community and to us as individuals.”