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Friday, April 29, 2011

2011 State of the County Address

Strathconians – shaping our future

Responsive, open-for-business, caring… that’s the kind of municipal government we strive to be in Strathcona County.

Good afternoon and welcome to the annual State of the County address.

It is a real pleasure to be in front of you today to share our vision, and some of the things we have been doing over the past year to achieve it.

I would like to take a few moments to introduce our dignitaries and guests present:
•  Dr. Jim Osinchuk
•  Tim Uppal, MP - Edmonton Sherwood Park and Kiran Uppal
•  Honourable Iris Evans, MLA - Sherwood Park
•  Dave Quest, MLA - Strathcona and Fiona Beland
•  Mayor Camille Berube, Town of Beaumont
•  Nolan Crouse, Mayor of St. Albert

Representing Strathcona County Council:
• Councillor Vic Bidzinski
• Councillor Brian Botterill
• Councillor Roxanne Carr
• Councillor Linton Delainey
• Councillor Jacquie Fenske
• Councillor Jason Gariepy
• Councillor Bonnie Riddell
• Councillor Peter Wlodarczak

Representing Elk Island Catholic Schools
• Vice-Chair, Jean Boisvert
• Trustee, Ted Paszek
Representing Elk Island Public Schools
• Chair, Lisa Brower
• Vice-Chair, Barb McNeill
• Trustee, Pat McLauchlin
• Trustee, Harvey Stadnick
I am continually amazed by the level of energy and passion within our community. I want to assure you that same level of enthusiasm is at work throughout Strathcona County, the organization, and among your Council.

When I think about the state of Strathcona County, I think about accomplishment. I think about growth.

Our roots

Growth and accomplishment are built on a long-standing and proud human history, stemming from:
• Canada's early history -- the First Nations people and the fur trade of the 18th and 19th century
• Settlement starting as early as the 1880s when pioneers were attracted to the region with the promise of good soil, and the opportunity to own land

Individuals and families of numerous cultural backgrounds came here largely from across the North American continent and from Europe, and many M├ętis families already here took up land claims as well.

These pioneers first settled Clover Bar, then expanded into the Bremner and Ardrossan areas, the Salisbury and Colchester districts, along Wye and Baseline trails, and out to Cooking and Hastings Lakes.

In two years, our community will celebrate 120 years since the Northwest Territories government declared an area in Strathcona County (known as Clover Bar) as Statute Labour and Fire District Number 2.

Strathcona County was named for Lord Strathcona – Donald Alexander Smith (1820 – 1914) – who played a major role in the development of Western Canada.

Among his many accomplishments, Lord Strathcona worked his way up to being Director, and the largest single shareholder of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and helped establish the Canadian Pacific Railway. He also personally financed the Strathcona Horse, a force of 540 hand-picked western Canadian marksmen for the Boer War.

The southern portion of our municipality took on the name Strathcona when Local Improvement District #518 became the Municipal District of Strathcona on May 25, 1918. In 1943, the municipal districts of Clover Bar and Strathcona merged to become the Municipal District of Strathcona #83. Sherwood Park entered the scene in the mid-1950s, when two developers started up a satellite community for workers of the areas new oil refineries. Since this time, we have successfully made the transition to a world-class municipality.
Through it all, we have clung to the values on which we were built – hard work, and an innovative, pioneering spirit.

Today, we are rightly proud of our roots, and are working to preserve our heritage and sense of pride, even as we continue to grow and evolve as a municipality, supporting a unique mix of urban and rural residents, business, retail and industry.

Growth
Our growth has been positive and steady – as demonstrated by 2010 statistics such as these:
Building permits:
• Served over 63,000 customers
• Issued close to 9300 permits, including:
- 480 single-detached dwellings
- 431 multi-family units 
- total construction value of $436 million 
•  In 2011, we estimate growth at 3.5%
•  Predict 425 housing starts, with an average house price of $425,000
•  Anticipate over 300,000 square feet of new retail market growth

These developments are fuelled in large part by rapid and continual population growth
• almost three per cent in 2009
• seven per cent since 2006

Who are Strathconians?

Who are Strathconians; the people who make up our County? Two-thirds, almost 62,000 people, live in Sherwood Park. The other third, just over 26,000 people, live in the rural areas of the County – on farms, acreages and in rural hamlets. The median age of our residents is 37.8, with an average family income of almost $110,000. More than 55 per cent of us have some post-secondary education.

Partners with business and industry

Good access to young professionals with high disposable incomes helps us attract new and retain existing business and industry -- Strathcona County is home to thriving business and industrial communities.

A retail market analysis, completed recently for Economic Development and Tourism, is being used to guide the kind of retail and service sector businesses we want to attract to the County. It will also help determine how much land to allocate to retail development in future. The study analyzed the amount of commercial space available by merchandise category against residents’ expected future demand for those same categories. It also assessed the dollars currently being spent outside of the community, and identified gaps in the County's retail offerings.

The report told us, among other things, that:
• We can easily support another 345,000 square feet of retail space right now.
• While the retail services available have improved dramatically over the past 10 years, there is still room to attract more retail services to Strathcona County.

We continue to forge excellent working relationships with our local industry associations, such as the Strathcona Industrial Association (SIA), for:
• emergency preparedness
• air quality monitoring, and
• public information and education

Industry has told us that our Emergency Services Department is ‘second to none’ in their responsive attitude and services provided. The department turned some of its attention to the County itself recently:
• creating an Emergency Management Branch
• updating the County’s Municipal Emergency Plan and
• completing business continuity plans for all Strathcona County departments

In 2010, the County’s overall upgrader capacity grew in the Alberta Industrial Heartland with completion of the Scotford expansion, and we saw positive signals of the province’s continued support of that industry with the recent announcement of the North West Redwater Partnership for the Sturgeon Upgrader, with support from the BRIK Program. While this facility will be built in Sturgeon County, it is still good news for Strathcona County, which will benefit from related industries and growth in the region.

Friends of the environment
Partnering with business and industry to sustain our economic advantage is a municipal focus; however, it is not the only focus. We also recognize the importance of identifying and preserving our natural landscape, which is another aspect of what makes Strathcona County special.

The Beaver Hills Initiative or BHI is a case in point. This award-winning partnership of 30 plus members, including all levels of government, is recognized at local, regional, provincial, federal and international levels.
The BHI supports coordinated action to ensure land planning and management includes conservation and land stewardship of the Beaver Hills/ Cooking Lake Moraine. The intent is not to diminish development opportunities, but rather help individuals understand the factors that are paramount in a natural ecosystem and to help them set those management goals. We recognize there are also many other opportunities to support economic development in the area, such as assessing the eco-tourism opportunities for the region. One exciting project under this initiative is the Biosphere Reserve nomination to UNESCO. If approved, the area would be only the second biosphere reserve in all of Alberta. This designation would help foster sustainable development, and could build local capacity for research, monitoring and educational opportunities.

County highlights - Affordable housing
When I look at our own progress on a number of important fronts over 2010, many highlights stand out, and I would like to share some of these with you.

Participation on the Capital Region Board led to provincial acceptance of a Capital Region Growth Plan that aligns closely to our own strategic plan. Moving forward, I expect our work on this board to result in some significant new initiatives:
• affordable housing
• transit
• economic development opportunities

Last year, for instance, we completed a number of affordable housing projects,started a first-time home ownership program and started a secondary suites grant program.

Robin Hood Association's Aspen Village opened in March, and is now home to 36 individuals with developmental disabilities. Pioneer Housing Foundation completed Silver Birch Manor, which is connected to Silver Birch Lodge, a building with 60 self-contained apartments for low-income seniors. Habitat for Humanity held a dedication ceremony in December for two of three completed town homes in Emerald Hills, now home to two deserving families.

We also started The HOME Program, to provide information and down-payment assistance to low-income, first-time home owners in Strathcona County. To date, this program has provided a total of $70,000 to 14 individuals and families in the purchase of their first home. It will continue running in 2011, along with the Secondary Suites Grant Program, which offers grants to home owners who want to develop an affordable rental suite in their home.

Transit

With support from the Canada-Alberta Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund we were also able to replace much of our transit fleet with greener and more accessible buses, and we arranged to pilot a double-decker bus and Nova articulating bus as possible means to expand rider capacity. Transit also signed a new, three-year U-PASS contract that includes the University of Alberta, MacEwan University and, for the first time in 2010, NAIT. The agreement signifies a continuing partnership between Strathcona County Transit, St. Albert Transit and Edmonton Transit. U-PASS is an exciting inter-municipal busing initiative that allows post-secondary students in the region to travel in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible way.

Transportation
Council approved the Sustainable Rural Roads Master plan, guiding how rural roads are maintained and rehabilitated. In 2010, we initiated an Integrated Transportation Master Plan to respond to the municipality's future transportation needs, as influenced by the surrounding districts. The plan will direct policies and provide guidance for funding projects and programs that will help us build an integrated transportation network including:
• Auto
• transit and
• active modes, such as walking and cycling

It will allow us to plan future network upgrades to keep transportation systems functioning at an acceptable level of service within the County, and it will position us well for future transportation challenges.

Strategic initiatives
Our street lighting policy review will include a reference to the new Light Efficient Community Policy that will ensure all new developments in the County adhere to the rules that will help guide us in preserving the night sky.

We completed public consultation for the third sustainability pillar of our strategic plan, the Economic Sustainability Framework. This framework’s guiding principles include:
• Ensuring the County’s sound financial condition and the fiscal capacity
to deliver services and infrastructure on a sustainable basis 
• Focusing economic development on strong economic drivers
• Enabling and promoting a diversified economy through the
development of green jobs and investment
• Partnering with community organizations, municipalities in the region,
other orders of government and the private sector to promote
sustainable economic development

Public engagement
Now that the three frameworks are complete, we are working to introduce a Sustainability Platform in 2011 to bring the three into balance to guide decision making for County operations: Social, Environmental and Economic.
We recognize that each and every decision we make has an impact on citizens in more ways than just financial.
Considering all of these impacts will help us ensure that success in one area is not achieved at the expense of other areas.

Operational excellence - Community safety
Operationally, the County implemented a number of new initiatives in 2010designed to address the needs of Strathconians. We completed state-of-the-art renovations to Fire Station 5 at the intersection of Clover Bar Road and Baseline Road, and we approved funding to build a new Fire Station 6 to address the growth in population, as well as in the size and density of development.

Our RCMP and Strathcona County Enforcement Services’ integrated service delivery model now includes:
• 89 RCMP members
• 16 Peace Officers
• 70 support personnel
all committed to ensuring Strathcona County is one of the safest communities in Alberta.
Three policing priorities were identified in 2010:
• improving traffic safety
• reducing the impact of illicit drugs and
• reducing the impact of “break and enters” in our community.

The traffic safety program, including both enforcement strategies and public education initiatives, has resulted in a substantial reduction in fatal and injury collisions across the County.

Our Drug Unit continued to target and dismantle some very prominent and highly organized criminal operations – there were some 57 drug-related charges laid against 15 individuals in 2010. Our detachment continues to be challenged by the property crimes generated out of low-level drug use.

There was a marked increase in incidents of break and enters to garages and theft from vehicles. While the dollar-value for most of these incidents was quite small, these two areas of property crime combined is more of a problem than the previous year. We did, however, experience a very successful year in solving many major crime investigations, including making arrests in 10 business robberies.

Winter maintenance
Changes to our Winter Maintenance Policy were put to good use in helping us deal with one of the heaviest snowfall years on record. Purchase of a fifth snow blower unit also increased our ability to meet the 12-day time frame stipulated by this policy.

Infrastructure and rural growth
We approved a number of infrastructure projects essential to the rural hamlets:
• $9 million sewer line extension to Ardrossan in support of anticipated
growth.

This year, we will also:
• Construct a non-potable water truck fill site in the northern part of the
County for agricultural water use
• Begin construction of a new truck fill in Half Moon Lake, and
• Investigate locations for a future site in the South Cooking Lake areas.

Recreation

We continue to make good progress in the revitalization of our recreational facilities – both indoor and outdoor – as part of the Open Space and Recreation Facility Strategy. Approved in 2008, this plan identifies recreation facilities, natural areas, parks and open spaces to be redeveloped or developed over the next 15 years. Last year saw work progress on revitalization of the:
• Ardrossan Recreation Complex
• Broadmoor Arena and Clubhouse, and
• Millennium Place – which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year

Planning and design work is now under way for:
• Glen Allan Recreation Complex
• Festival Place
• Aquatics - indoors and outdoors including splash parks, and Emerald
Hills – all scheduled for completion this year.

Funding in 2011 is ear marked to advance our outdoor revitalization initiatives. Projects include trail development for a more walkable community.

Seniors

We moved forward with implementation of an Older Adults Plan:
• Lawn Busters
• Snow Busters
• Friendly Visitors
• a new Seniors Resource Directory
All were new programs launched to support a better quality of life for Strathcona County’s seniors, and demonstrate the caring heart of our community.

To put the need in perspective – each month in 2010, our Home Support Program:
• saw an average of 255 clients
• conducted over 9000 visits
• provided more than 3600 hours of care
- 74 per cent of these clients were more than 75 years old
- 70 per cent live in Sherwood Park.
An Elder Abuse Prevention/ Intervention initiative is on the books for 2011.
Youth
Our Youth Council celebrated 20 years of contribution to the community – the longest running Youth Council in Alberta. We will complete a third Youth Survey in 2011 to monitor and evaluate the health of youth in our community. I believe Strathcona County has a lot to offer our youth:
• excellent recreational facilities
• a variety of cultural opportunities
• a new library, and
• excellent school facilities - the new Archbishop Jordan Catholic High
School currently being built is a case in point

That said, I believe we could be doing more. The Youth Emergency Shelter Society (YESS) in Edmonton has indicated that up to 40% of their beds are utilized by Strathcona County youth at any given time. I am personally engaged in encouraging development of a youth shelter and activity centre in the County.

Celebrations and awards
We hosted some significant celebrations last year. The Olympic Torch came through the community in January as part of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. Strathcona County was proud to host the flame as an official Route Community for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We also hosted a number of key Ministers as part of a Cabinet Tour in March 2010, and an Agricultural Services Board Tour in June that same year.

We were excited this winter to celebrate the opening of our new Library and Community Centre as a ‘heart for our community. Since then, we have had many opportunities to open the doors of the facility to a wide array of community groups and County activities.

In March 2011, we opened Strathcona County’s new Art Gallery@501, which will feature curated exhibitions from local, regional and national artists, visual arts programs for people of all ages, and special activities and events.
My own vision would be to see our community showcase the full range of talent in our community, from visual and performing artists, to dance, to all style and tastes of music.  I have partnered with the Arts and Culture Council of Strathcona County to host the first-ever Mayor’s Celebration for the Arts on May 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Agora in the Community Centre. The event will include a buffet, live dance band and auction. Tickets are $50 and are available through the ACCSC, River City Rental or Salisbury Greenhouse. I hope you’ll come out and support arts and culture in our community.

Throughout the year, Strathcona County received a number of awards recognizing our efforts:
• Our Keys to Empowering Youth to Succeed (KEYS), a mental health
promotion and prevention program, received the Excellence in
Learning Partnerships Award from the Alberta School Councils’
Association.
• Strathcona County Recreation, Parks and Culture received the
Celebration Award from the Arbor Day Foundation. The foundation
honours tree planters, conservation groups and organizations,
through its National Arbor Day Awards. This is the first time
a Canadian community has been recognized.
• The Canada Lands Company Sustainable Development Award for
community-wide environmental initiatives - the County received
a five-bloom rating in the 2010 National Edition of the Circle of
Excellence category and special mention for Cooperative
Efforts of All Sectors.

Progress on Council priorities
On October 18, I was honoured to be elected as your new Mayor. Since then, I am happy to report that our future is in focus. As a Council, we have set and are making good progress on a number of priorities:
• We reviewed our sign regulations under the Land Use Bylaw this fall,
based on feedback from local businesses.
• On February 8, we passed a revised bylaw that:
- allows inflatable signs year round
- increases the length of time special event signs can be posted, and
- reduces restrictions placed on third-party advertising among other
changes.

We established a committee of Council to draft governance policies, and reviewed policies on Codes of Conduct, Roles and Responsibilities and the Meetings Procedures Bylaw at the end of March. We will work to ratify these policies as quickly as possible.

We established an Economic Development & Tourism Advisory Committee, including public representation, to help County administration and Council implement the Economic Development and Tourism strategy and we identified and took action on issues requiring our active intervention on the community’s behalf.

Construction has already begun on Phase I of the hospital project, and we are pleased to hear the Premier commit an additional $69 million to commence Phase 2 in 2012. Together we will get an active treatment hospital that complements the needs of our Capital Region.

Heartland Transmission Project

As you know, we are actively engaged in the formal process related to the Heartland Transmission Project hearings, which began last Monday. We expect to present our own evidence within the next week or so that there is a strong, compelling case to be made for locating the transmission lines in the alternate route. Our position is based on the evidence, which shows that the East TUC route is adjacent to a greater number of residents, and has a higher incidence of schools, daycares and hospitals within 800 metres of the TUC. Whichever route is selected, we will still advocate for underground as a viable option. As it addresses health impacts and concerns, we believe this approach that should be considered in all densely populated areas, and that these costs to be borne by all Alberta transmission customers. We are doing everything we can to protect the interests of our residents and business community with respect to this issue. I urge everyone present today to get involved, and to become educated on this issue:
• How will these lines affect you as small business owners,
particularly if your business is located adjacent to the
‘preferred’ route?
• What are the potential impacts of the lines on our residents’ health,
community aesthetics and property values?
• What is being done to assess and mitigate these impacts?
• How can we get involved to ensure our concerns are being addressed?

By working together, we can make ourselves heard on this important issue.

New initiatives

I would like to tell you about three new initiatives you’ll be hearing more about in the coming weeks. All are designed to improve dialogue between Strathcona County and its residents, business community and other stakeholders.

The first is implementation of our new public engagement framework to support consistent, coordinated processes and practices across the organization. We recognize the growing demand for public engagement and the value of public contribution to decision making, and support public engagement processes that are honest, transparent and accessible to all. Over the next two years, we will be working to develop an engagement toolkit, provide training for County staff, and coordinate public engagement activities in the County.

The second is a community branding initiative to create a strong brand and identity for our vibrant community in the market place. It will also help connect Strathonians, business and industry with a clear, shared purpose. We have already engaged in a number of meetings with stakeholders to get feedback on what makes our community a unique and special place to live, work and play. Our goal is to have something to share this fall.

Finally, we will be implementing a number of social media tools to provide our community members with more avenues for input, and to facilitate conversations between the County and those we serve.

Igniting the Spirit!

In closing, I just want you to know that we are here, and we want to hear from you; to be ever more responsive to your needs.

I invite you to share your vision for 2011 and beyond with me. My door is always open. Together, we can mould a County that will continue to be a leader among municipalities, one we can all be proud to live in.

Mayor Linda

Monday, April 18, 2011

Strathconians - What is our future?

What makes us Strathconians? Do you live in Sherwood Park, Ardrossan, Josephburg, South or North Cooking Lake, Collingwood Cove, Hastings Lake, Half Moon Lake or Antler Lake? Nine vibrate hamlets within the boundaries of Strathcona County.  Almost 120 years ago this County was formed. Hard work, pride and the hope of a good future was part of our heritage.

Now 2011 we need to embrace our pride, identity and a sense of hope for the future. On the 20th of April I invite you to my first State of the County address as your new Mayor. This luncheon event, starting at , is a partnership with the Sherwood Park and District Chamber of Commerce and will be held in our beautiful Agora (gathering place) in the Community Center at the Center of the Park. An exciting, positive and informative message on what makes us tick as Strathconians will be part of my address.

As third largest municipality in the province, we are poised for many opportunities both residentially and business wise. Energy, Environment and Economics are the three prime legs of the proverbial stool. A stool like I remember I used as a farm girl milking cows in Saskatchewan. A solid, sturdy foundation needed to get a basic but tremendously important job done.  Strathcona County is a key economic engine in this province.

Challenges are also before us. Issues such as 500 kv Transmission lines over our schools and families, proposed by Altalink, Epcor and recommended by AESO to run along our immediate boundaries west of our community along Highway 14. It is identified as the preferred route.

These lines possess the largest threat ever to our residents and business owner’s health, property value, environment and fundamentally the identity of all of Strathconians! The fight of our lives is before us.

A fight that include petitions; resolutions on burying the line and looking at less densely populated areas without schools; a recommendation to investigate a by-law that would ensure a “buffer zone” is guaranteed between any proposed 240V or higher transmission lines to protect all Strathconia’s, supporting and working with school parent groups, organizations and individuals, and MLA Quest who is also fighting the fight. We have just entered the legal hearing process with the AUC (Alberta Utility Commission). This will take at least 4-5 weeks. This has already cost us half a million dollars. Is it worth it! Darn right it is! Together we will succeed!

Our message is loud and clear! Strathcona County is a vibrant, caring community proud of its rural roots and is open for business! We stand tall, proud and passionate as Strathconians. I know I do and I will work hard for all of us. My door is open. Coffee is on. I would be honoured to sit and have a chat with you.

Linda