If those attending the Town of Stettler municipal election forum Oct. 2 at The Hub were expecting fireworks and vitriol, they must have been disappointed. In true Stettler fashion, the candidate forum was characterized by articulate, well-spoken platforms and candidates complimenting each other throughout the evening.
The forum, sponsored and organized by the Stettler Board of Trade, featured all of the candidates running in the election, plus mayor-elect Sean Nolls, who was acclaimed on nomination day. The board of trade staff was strict with the time clock as they strove to keep the evening fair and balanced.
Mayor Dick Richards was sitting front row, centre.
Ten candidates appealed to voters for the six town councilor seats. Candidates include Darcy Bachman (incumbent), Cheryl Barros, Will Brown (incumbent), Al Campbell (incumbent), Malcolm Fischer (incumbent), Gord Lawlor, Scott Pfeiffer, Travis Randell, Jim Smith and Wayne G. Smith.
Each candidate had two minutes at the mike to introduce themselves to a room that saw extra seats placed as it quickly filled up. Then they answered questions from the audience.
Randell began by saying he is a young person with a young family. He enjoys and appreciates living in Stettler. He sees himself as a voice for the people and as town councilor will listen to what people in the community have to say.
Bachman said he’s got nine years of council experience and spent time working on important committees like the library board and MPC. He said past councils have accomplished a lot of good things like pathways and acquiring grants and wants to see that continue. Improving the airport also helped the town.
Lawlor said he is the kind of person who gives 100 per cent to everything he does and would do the same on council, and is at a point where he can dedicate the proper time to elected office. Lawlor said he ‘s lived in Stettler for over two decades, has done a lot of volunteer work and is well known in the community.
Pfeiffer said he grew up in Stettler and raised his family here. He pointed out much volunteer and service work such as the Downtown Merchants Association and the Rotary Club plus the Variety showcase board. He has served as a Lutheran deacon and earned Male Citizen of the Year.
Jim stated he’s lived in Stettler for close to 30 years and worked in the local lumber business. He said he wants to ensure Stettler is a safe community and wants to see the town prosper. Jim said he’s concerned about the needs of youth and seniors and will carry their concerns to council. He wants to attract people to Stettler as he was attracted.
Barros said she was born and raised in Stettler and works as a legal assistant. Barros said she is an avid golfer, curler and member of the Kinnette service club. The club was proud to help with the West Stettler Park playground. She said she looks forward to challenges on council wants to exceed voter expectations.
Brown said he ahs been honoured to serve as a town councilor. He’s excited about running again, and described his family, his faith and his business. He said eh understands working class concerns such as living costs and tax increases, and is also proud of the work he’s done on the FCSS committee and in physician recruitment.
Wayne said he’s lived in Stettler for many years, and the arts scene is dear to his heart. His daughter was recently diagnosed with cancer, and his family was overwhelmed with support from the community and he decided he wanted to return the favour by serving as councilor. He’s helped with the downtown park, theatre and the Lightning hockey team.
Fischer said he’s in his second term as councilor and consider it a public service job. Fischer has volunteered extensively. He said he understands the balance of providing services in Stettler versus the cost of those services. He feels past councils have done a good job stewarding the city.
Campbell said he’s lucky to have his three kids born in Stettler and lucky to have them go through Stettler’s education, sports and culture communities. Campbell said he’s a long time businessman in Stettler and has the experience and ability to see the big picture. He always puts the town first and puts thought into decisions, such as keeping the water plant in the town fold, which turned out to be a wise decision.
Q: How will you increase access to public transit?
Lawlor said he especially supports medical transportation for seniors, as his senior parents moved to Stettler four years ago and understands that issue.
Bachman stated the local handibus is an excellent resource and the town tries to get the most out of it.
Jim noted he’s been in need of this service and is something the town can’t do without.
Brown stated FCSS reviews how to make bus access affordable, and demand isn’t as high for buses as the cost is.
Wayne noted it’s not easy to increase bus access because the current handibus charges $5 per trip, but actually costs about $17.
Fischer said discussions have been held for bus services, but public funds aren’t there while bus companies must make a profit.
Q: How will you attract and retain new business?
Bachman said the town is spending money on the arena, the hospital was renovated and school upgraded so the town is attractive but the Hwy#2 corridor is the competition.
Campbell said bringing in Walmart enhanced Stettler as a destination, and if people want to keep local businesses going, then local people should support them.
Fischer said Stettler has a welcoming atmosphere and good services and that helps as much as anything when people are looking for a community to run a business. He said there’s no magic wand, unfortunately.
Nolls said he sees services first, like the state of the art arena facility, and that attracts people to Stettler from as far away as the Saskatchewan border.
Pfeiffer, a former business owner, said the key is a regional approach and friendly merchants, plus reasonable taxes.
Brown said his business taught him high taxes hurt the business community and knows the federal government is not helping.
Lawlor added that Stettler has a good reputation for being open for business, a great place to live and work with good amenities and council must protect that.
Q: When are the soccer fields, baseball diamonds going to get a field house?
Fischer said the topic of a field house, a multi-use facility, has been discussed and a price tag sits at about $7 million, meaning if the town goes it alone, that’s a 20 per cent tax increase. He said the town and County of Stettler can’t afford that without grant help.
Campbell said town council knows the field house is a great idea, as at the trade fair, a field house was the top response on the local survey.
Bachman said several times the field house is a great idea but is a work in progress.
Q: Are there any plans for new rec amenities?
Barros said she’d love to see the pathway or hiking system expanded to allow exercise even in bad weather like the Oct. 2 snowstorm.
Wayne said the underlying principle of being a councilor is understanding what the community wants and if more hiking is wanted, he’ll take that to council.
Q: Will you keep user fees under control to encourage attendance?
Fischer said the town calculates user fees so serious thought is put into it, plus some youth sports are subsidized by the town so they don’t have to pay high costs. He said some facilities, for example the pool, are expensive to operate.
Nolls said the town has an agreement with the county for recreation funding, which helps keep user fees reasonable. He said such relationships are vital.
Pfeiffer noted, as a user, he sees a great facility in Stettler and knows there’s only so much that can be done. He feels the pool rates are reasonable.
Randell said the rec facility is an important part of Stettler’s future and it should be valued because many communities have no such facility.
Jim said Stettler has lots of youth sports and lots of amenities for and many groups do lots of fundraising to keep those going.
Brown said the challenge to the town is to make facilities excellent but keep costs under control. He said the town should be willing to include low cost, low maintenance activities locally.
Q: Does Stettler have a crime problem?
Brown said policing is something that’s always in demand, no matter how much you have. He said Stettler, according to the provincial funding formula, has the proper policing. He also pointed out the public should embrace crime prevention.
Fischer noted Mayor Richards worked tirelessly to get Stettler more police service.
Randell says he felt crime appears to be on the rise in Stettler and area and that police response times seem long.
Bachman noted Citizens on patrol is operating in Stettler again.
Nolls stated the local detachment has 11 members, two of which are rural, and they have a large coverage area and most communities don’t feel they have enough police.
Lawlor, who has volunteered with victim services, said the public can be demanding and that you’ll probably only get more police if crime increases.
Q: What can you do to encourage Stettler’s growth?
Nolls noted municipal growth should be slow and steady, otherwise it gets very expensive. He said if you offer a great community with lots to do, your community will grow.
Brown said the best way to make a community grow is ensure you have an attractive community. He said he was also interested in expanding affordable housing.
Borros said it is important to attract people, but it’s also important to keep the people you have. Encouraging youth to live in Stettler is important.
Lawlor pointed out stats showed Stettler didn’t grow very much for a long time. He feels people will come back when they appreciate what Stettler ahs to offer.
Bachman said it would be nice to encourage a “boomerang” effect, where youth are given tools to succeed, go out into the world, then return to Stettler with their experiences.
Pfeiffer said he’s seen a lot of youth come back to Stettler because of a reasonable cost of living, but a lack of jobs hurts the community.
Campbell said he saw a lot of people in the room who left Stettler, then retuned.
Fischer noted Campus Alberta offers a lot of programming in Stettler that allows people to make their lives better.
Q: What is the single issue you most want to represent”
All of the candidates agreed having one issue isn’t healthy, but did list many projects they feel are instrumental to the community, including the arts scene, ambulance service and senior housing.
Q: Is there a lack of affordable housing in Stettler?
Nolls said the town is looking at certain types of housing, such as seniors or low income, but wants to make sure they know what is needed.