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News: August 10, 2020 issue

Five local farms to participate in Alberta Open Farm Days

by Cassie Kushniruk

This summer, as part of Alberta Open Farm Days, locals, tourists, and visitors alike will have the opportunity to visit five local farms in Yellowhead County to meet local farmers and producers, learn where local food is produced, and more.
Yellowhead County, in conjunction with Community Futures West Yellowhead, has been participating in AB Open Farm Days for four years in an effort to promote local farmers, producers, greenhouses, u-picks, and anything that is grown and produced locally.
According to Yellowhead County Senior Commun-ications Coordinator Stefan Felsing, the event also serves as a “great chance for residents and families to get out and explore the region, find out where your food comes from, and meet your local farmers and growers”.
This year, five local farms will be participating in the event, including Wild County Gardens, Leaman Exchange, Stonepost Farms, Backwoods Buffalo Ranch, and Go Hard Ranch.
Although the County typically hosts a bus tour complete with a farm-to-table lunch for AB Farm Days, the event was unfortunately cancelled this year due to COVID-19. “Luckily we still have several farms in Yellowhead County taking part,”Felsing said, noting that some farms were not able to participate due to the rainy season.“And some are even providing a lunch option that will show off some of the local food and treats produced in Yellowhead County.”
Throughout the weekend, visitors will have the opportunity to tour and explore the local farms, meet the farmers and learn about their crops, sample locally grown produce and other food items, and participate in activities unique to each farm. “Each stop is unique and interesting,” said Felsing. “Leaman Exchange is always a hit with the kids; they have a petting zoo, activities like gold-panning, and their always popular 'Featherton' bird town filled with unique and exotic birds.”
Felsing noted that visitors will also have the chance to purchase products directly from the farmers to take home a bit of locally-grown treats and other items.
“Through AB Open Farm Days we're able to help promote our local producers through our Grow Yellowhead local food initiative,” Felsing said. Grow Yellowhead is a joint effort between Yellowhead County and Community Futures West Yellowhead to help local food producers, from small niche markets to large processors, get into new markets that are looking for locally-sourced food and related products.
“The goal of the Yellowhead Local Food Initiative, also known as Grow Yellowhead, is to ensure that a wide range of local food options are readily available to consumers across our region; from local farmers' markets and grocers to all other markets across the County and beyond,” Felsing said.
According to Felsing, each of the five farms in this year's lineup has been working closely with Community Futures Health & Safety Business Advisor Deanne Fabrick, who is assisting the farms with COVID-19 health and safety practices. “She's been working with our local farms over the previous years for visitor safety management, but will be introducing extra safety measures this year as we're learning to deal with this pandemic,” Felsing said.
“Over the years, we've had hundreds of visitors take part in this event,” Felsing said. “Not only do we get local people visiting, but there are also visitors that come from as far as Edmonton, and Stone Post Farms has even hosted bus dinner tours from the city as well.”
“[AB Farm Days] is a great opportunity for local residents and visitors to get out and explore what's going on in our area, and it's a great learning opportunity to see where your food is coming from and to meet the wonderful farmers and growers that make it happen,” said Felsing. “We're very happy that this is continuing on for 2020.”
For more information about this year's Alberta Open Farm Days, or to see what is taking place at the farms on each day, visit yhcounty.ca or westyellowhead.albertacf.com.

News: August 3, 2020 issue

Editorial/Comment

by Dana McArthur

Province reviews linear tax model: Potential to triple rural tax rates!

The provincial government recently announced their intention to review the current linear tax assessment model for oil and gas properties in Alberta.
The implications of the proposed changes will profoundly impact the financial outlook for Yellowhead County, and in turn, the towns of Edson and Hinton which the County holds cost and revenue sharing agreements with. These agreements are estimated at over ten million dollars annually.
In this new model the County stands to lose up to 26% of its municipal tax revenue!
Linear tax revenues are revenues collected by municipalities from companies that have linear property items like oil and gas wells, pipelines, power generation, power lines, and utility lines within their municipalities.
These tax revenues are used by municipalities for the maintenance of infrastructure such as roads and bridges. A significant portion of the linear taxes collected include education taxes that are forwarded to the province. For the Yellowhead County, the 2020 school requisition totals $23,783,495.
As most linear property items are located within rural Alberta, rural municipalities receive the majority of the tax revenue as they are the ones challenged with the significant and escalating cost of maintaining, repairing, and building this infrastructure —which in turn is strained by industry.
Compared to urban municipalities, rural municipalities spend significantly more per capita to maintain this basic infrastructure that supports Alberta's economy. Rural municipalities are responsible for managing about 75% of Alberta's roads and 60% of Alberta's bridges, according to the Rural Municipalities Association (RMA).
Infrastructure is integral to Alberta's economy. Ensuring that rural Alberta can maintain safe infrastructure is critical for every resident in the province. Every Albertan relies on these roads, bridges, and infrastructure to get us to work, get our products to market, and deliver the groceries and goods we use every day.
Simply put, the changes proposed by the province threaten the long-term sustainability of Alberta's rural municipalities. It also downloads the burden of maintaining Alberta's rural infrastructure and development onto rural homeowners, possibly even tripling residential tax rates — at a time when residents can least afford it!
There must certainly be less damaging ways to support our struggling oil and gas industries than clawing revenue from equally struggling rural municipalities and residents.
If you would like to make your voice heard on this issue please contact your local MLA.

News: July27, 2020 issue

Province to reopen K-12 schools in September

by Cassie Kushniruk

On July 21, the province announced that Alberta’s K-12 education system will re-open for in-class learning this September under scenario 1, allowing 715,000 students to return to school.
Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange stated that school days will look mostly the same as before COVID-19, but with some modifications.
According to Premier Jason Kenney, the province’s health and education officials have developed “state-of-the-art protocols for minimizing the risk of transmission at schools”, which will be reviewed regularly as new evidence emerges. These protocols include physical distancing, grouping students into cohorts to minimize the infection spread, frequent hand washing with sanitizers at school entrances and in classrooms, staying home when sick, increased sanitization of surfaces in schools and on busses, and daily-self assessments. “Students and staff may wear a mask if they choose to do so,” he added.
LaGrange stated that individual schools and school divisions will be able to modify these guidelines in order to develop specific plans to keep their students and staff safe.
Although these protocols will be in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19, Kenney noted that this does not mean that there will be no cases in schools. “This means rather that we have calculated the relative risks of reopening against the risks of continued closures, and we made the best decision to serve the public interest,” he said.
If a student of staff member does test positive for COVID-19, LaGrange stated that a public health officer will investigate the situation to “determine when symptoms developed, and will support the school to minimize the transmission”. Parents will be notified if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in their school, and public health officials will contact those who were in close contact with the infected person. Additionally, if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in a community or school, health officials will work with school authorities and Alberta Education to make a decision to transition to partial in-class learning or at-home learning.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw added that if a student shows symptoms of COVID-19 while at school, they will be separated from others, and the parent/guardian will be asked to pick them up immediately.
By making this announcement now, Kenney stated that the province is giving families plenty of time to plan for the fall and prepare for sending their children back to school. “Children need us to look out for their future, which really is the future of Alberta, and that means we must get them back in school and back on track to get the education and support they need to succeed in life,” he said.
LaGrange said, “We are confident that our plan will work. In fact, we were able to somewhat trial-test it this summer when school authorities ran in-person summer school programming. School authorities, such as Chinook’s Edge, Calgary Catholic, Medicine Hat Public, and Progressive Academy, have all run in-person summer school programming under the guidelines and have had no major issues.”
LaGrange noted that every school authority in Alberta will be receiving a funding increase for the upcoming school year, and a reserve has also been approved to help cover local COVID-19 related costs.
Additionally, LaGrange stated that the province will now be offering diplomas exams four times a year in November, January, April, and June. “This is in response to a request from school boards who are shifting high school programming to a four-semester system as part of their COVID-19 re-entry plan,” she said. “Students in participating schools will take fewer subjects in each semester so that they can be grouped in cohorts to minimize contact and make contact tracing easier.”
“This decision is ultimately about doing what’s best for students and parents,” said Kenney. “They, along with our teachers, worked very hard the last third of the school year to try to keep up with students’ course work. The vast majority [of Albertans] agree it’s time to get back to normal, or as normal as we can, and to get kids back to school. In fact, a survey of more than 65,000 parents done by the Alberta School Council Association found that 86% of parents supported a return to school plan for this fall.”
West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long said, “I know that there is going to be some apprehension, but I’ve had parents reach out to me the whole time about returning to in-school learning as soon as possible, while mitigating the risk. Inevitably, we only have about 13 years to teach these kids the essential skills they need for life, and so the sooner we can get the kids back in a scenario where they can learn better, the better it is for everyone.”
To help parents prepare for the school year, the province has created a return-to-school tool kit, which includes videos, a parent guide, and other pertinent information. Parents and schools can find this tool kit on alberta.ca/returntoschool.

 

News: July20, 2020 issue

Residents support local businesses during Phase 2 relaunch

by Cassie Kushniruk

On June 12, the province entered Phase 2 of Alberta’s economic relaunch strategy, which allowed additional businesses to reopen and resume operations with physical distancing requirements and other public health protocols in place.
Local businesses have had one month to adapt to these changes and modify their business model with respect to the ‘new normal’.
The Coal Pile Homestyle Eatery reopened on June 1 with measures in place to make the restaurant “more comfortable and sanitary and normal”, including the removal of 50% of the tables, increased sanitizing protocols, seat covers for toilets, and readily available sanitizer for customers when they enter and leave the building. “We’ve tried to make it as comfortable and sanitary as possible for them, as well as trying to keep the atmosphere that we had before,” said owner Tara Korun.
Although Korun noted that the restaurant has seen a decrease in customers since the reopening, “I have seen some customers come back and their support is greatly appreciated, especially during these times. We’re doing the best we can and we’re happy to have any support that we can get right now.”
Korun stated that one of the biggest challenges the restaurant is currently facing is trying to get people comfortable with getting back out into the community. “We actually did a bunch of new things to try and bring people back out and get them excited about coming back, like we created a pasta menu and a salad menu, we have appetizer Caesars, just some things to bring the fun back to people,” she said.
Edson Bowl reopened their doors to the public on June 17 with various COVID safety measures in place. “We have shields put up at the till area, the balls are sanitized, we can only use every second lane, and after a group comes in and leaves, we sanitize the whole area,” said owner Michelle Armstrong.
Although Armstrong stated that she usually doesn’t open the bowling alley in July because “it is so slow”, she decided to reopen Edson Bowl early since they were closed for three months.
Unfortunately, Edson Bowl has received a lower amount of customers since reopening compared to previous years. “I thought [people would want to come here] because everybody’s been stuck in their houses,” said Armstrong. “I don’t know what the reasoning is, whether it’s a COVID scare or just because it’s the summer.”
Thymes Two closed their doors to the public a couple days before the government ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, yet remained open by appointment through the end of March and April. “It was the beginning of May that we reopened for 11 am to 4 pm,” said owner Louise Connolly. “June rolled around and because of the fact that we had people waiting outside the door at 11 am, we made the decision to go to 10 am to 4 pm, and we’re still at those hours now.”
In keeping with COVID-19 health protocols, Thymes Two has increased sanitizing protocols like many other businesses in order to keep their staff and customers safe. Connolly noted that although the store does not currently have labels telling people to keep their distance from the till when paying, “it’s interesting because they actually stay back”. “We noticed it at our till when people were paying. I thought somebody else was in line to pay but they were just waiting for them to leave so they could go down to the other side,” she said.
In response to this, Connolly stated that staff moved around some displays in the store in order to give customers more space to move around the store.
Connolly stated that Thymes Two’s sales for June were better than the sales for last June. “I think people are starting to get out and they need to buy stuff,” she said. “There is still a need for baby gifts, birthday presents, anniversary gifts, etc. Life still continues on and I think being in a small town, people are coming to the conclusion of understating the fact that when you go to Costco or order online, they don’t support your local non-profits. They understand what small business means to a community.”
“We’re going to be at least comparable with next year,” Connolly continued, “It’s going to depend on what happens this week with the Sidewalk Jamboree Sale, because we don’t have the Summer Festival with the big draw. I’m pleased to say that the residents of the area are supporting local business, and I’ve heard that from a lot of businesses who’ve said that their business is doing pretty good.”
Connolly thanked her customers for their continued support. “I’m glad I live where I do, in a small town in Canada, because I think it makes a big difference. We have people that are very considerate here and very cautious of everybody else. I’ve noticed it on the street and even in my store that people are every considerate of other people.”

News: July 13, 2020 issue

130 people participate in Eddie’s Big Run: COVID Style

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
From June 10 to 24, 130 people participated in the 11th annual Eddie’s Big Run, which was modified this year to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions.
Although Eddie’s Big Run was initially cancelled for 2020, the organizing committee decided to bring the event back, with some minor adjustments, for the benefit of the community. “When everything around us was being cancelled, we decided we didn’t want to follow suit but instead revamp it and still provide a fun run/walk for the community to participate in,” said Town of Edson Community Development Coordinator Krysta Hawboldt.
Instead of a traditional race, Eddie’s Big Run was transformed into a “virtual” run in which participants had the option to complete the 1 km kids’ fun run, 3 km, 5 km, or 10 km race at any time between June 10 and 24.
Participants had the option to complete their race alone, but many were seen running alongside family members, friends, and/or pets throughout the two-week period.
Each participant was encouraged to take a photo of them completing the race and post it to social media to be entered into a prize draw. Jensen’s Lifestyle Clothing donated a pair of shoes for the kid’s draw, which was won by Ezra Acorn, who completed his very first 10 km race. Additionally, the Edson Vet Clinic offered to donate a leash and collar for anyone running in the race with their dog, which was won by Christina Cole.
Hawboldt added, “We had a random draw for male and female runners who will also be getting a pair of shoes from Jensen’s.” The winner of the female draw was April Malmas, who ran the 10 km with a friend. Brad Armstrong won the male draw, who ran the 5 km with friends and family.
Although all of the extra parts that come along with Eddie’s Big Run were cancelled this year, such as the free pancake breakfast and the swag bags, Hawboldt noted that the race was free for anyone to participate in. 
130 people of all ages participated in the event, and although Eddie’s Big Run typically sees 400 people during normal years, Hawboldt said, “We were very pleased with the turnout considering this was a modified year. Some even did the race multiple times.”
According to Hawboldt, many participants were grateful that the Town was able to modify the 11th annual Eddie’s Big Run to provide a fun experience for the community during these trying times.
Hawboldt thanked Chantel Rivard, an Eddie’s Big Run Committee Member, for her help in making the event a success.
“We want to thank everyone for making the time to participate,” said Hawboldt.

 

News: July 6, 2020 issue

County NeighbourLink Friendly Caller program helps residents feel less isolated

by Cassie Kushniruk

The COVID-19 pandemic has made life stressful for many as people have been forced to drastically modify their daily routines to meet this new way of life. While some have adapted well to these changes, others may be experiencing feelings of loneliness or seclusion from the rest of the world as they are stuck in their homes with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to talk to.
For this reason, Yellowhead County has developed the NeighbourLink Friendly Caller Program as a way to help local residents feel less isolated and more in touch with one another.
“We recognize that isolation is something that people are facing, and providing that chance to connect with other people in the County is good for mental health,” said Yellowhead County FCSS Children’s Program Coordinator Jenna Truemner.
The Friendly Caller program, which launched in May, allows community members who are feeling isolated the chance to receive friendly, weekly phone call check-ins from other Yellowhead County residents. “It gives a chance for people to connect with each other in the community… build relationships, and have friendships with more people,” said Yellowhead County FCSS Community Outreach Coordinator Karen Schatz.
Schatz noted that this program is especially important for seniors, who are “used to getting out and about but now are feeling that this isolation is extremely harsh”. “This check-in service is just a friendly call to check in with them to make sure they’re doing okay and that they have someone to talk to so they’re not so lonely,” she said.
Despite the County’s efforts to advertise and promote this program, the County has not received any calls for this program as of yet. “We haven’t had anyone reach out for this service, but it is something we think we can continue to offer and promote even beyond COVID-19,” said Truemner.
On the plus side, Truemner mentioned that when the County posted the volunteer application for this program, they received a “big response”. “However, a lot of the applications we received were from outside Yellowhead County, and we wanted volunteers local to Yellowhead County.”
Those interested in volunteering with the program, and are aged 14 +, are encouraged to call Yellowhead County’s Wildwood office at 780-325-3782 or 1-800-814-3935. Volunteers will be provided with some guides for having helpful, friendly conversations, as well as information and support resources, if needed. Volunteers will need to complete an application package complete with a criminal record and vulnerable sector check, as well as an orientation to the program. “This program is flexible and it’s something that [volunteers] can do at home,” Truemner said. “It’s an opportunity to build relationships and make a positive difference in the County.”
“We encourage people to connect with Yellowhead County FCSS if they know anyone that might need to receive a friendly call or volunteer for this opportunity,” said Schatz.

News: June29, 2020 issue

Coal Valley Mine operations suspended

by Dana McArthur
Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC and its wholly owned subsidiary Prairie Mines & Royalty ULC announced on June 23, that it will be suspending operations at its Coal Valley Mine due to the significant constraints and challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At full production, approximately 400 to 425 employees work at the Coal Valley Mine.
"As the mine transitions to a full care and maintenance schedule, employee reductions will be carried out in a phased approach between August and December.  When the mine is in full care and maintenance, it is anticipated that approximately 20 to 25% of the employees will remain," stated Elenor Siebring, Director of Corporate, Environmental & Regulatory Affairs with Westmoreland.
Since the start of the outbreak, the company states it has steadfastly prioritized the health, safety and well-being of its employees, the local community, and all other stakeholders in its coordinated response to the virus. "Based on the latest assessment of the continuing and ongoing impacts of this situation, the management team ultimately concluded that there was no other option than to place the Mine into a state of care and maintenance," the company stated in a release. There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the mine. 
Commenting on the determination, Joe Micheletti, Chief Operating Officer for the company stated, “This is a very difficult decision for us to make, however, we know it’s the right decision in the circumstances and one that balances our duty of care to our workforce with the long-term interests of Coal Valley. For over four decades, safety has been the cornerstone priority at the operation and these actions highlight the extent to which the day to day activities at this unique mine have been compromised by COVID. Severance remuneration will be paid to all of the valued employees affected by this disappointing outcome.”
Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara said, "This news is devastating under the current economic conditions as they are a major employer in our community and have a long standing history of providing good quality, high paying jobs.  Our thoughts are with all the employees impacted by this decision.  There will be a ripple effect with contractors and those that provide goods and services to the mine.  We hope that the Coal Valley Mine will return to normal operations sooner rather than later." z
County Mayor Jim Eglinski said, "This is devastating news, but the decision to protect the health of the staff and prevent the spread of Covid-19 is understandable. Unfortunately this is just another one of the direct impacts of this pandemic on our communities and families. It also affects Canada when we talk about our coal exports; this will definitely hurt the economy. I think the one promising thing is that Westmoreland is keeping everything in a state of operation, so it can be opened when they think it's safe to do so. In the meantime, I am very frustrated for our local families and businesses the mine did support —and we'll all have to get through this together."
All the equipment and infrastructure on site, including the processing plant, will be maintained to preserve a state of operational readiness. “We will be transitioning to a small number of employees remaining on site to maintain the property and equipment, as well as to oversee all environmental responsibilities and compliance,” said Stephen Love, Coal Valley’s General Manger. “The operation will take all necessary steps to ensure that safety and environmental protocols and procedures are diligently followed during the care and maintenance period,” Mr. Love added.
Westmoreland’s management team is currently working with all stakeholders on a phased reduction of production operations at the mine site, with the transition to full care and maintenance activities expected to occur within the next quarter. "Given the indeterminate nature of the constraints and challenges imposed by the pandemic and the continued uncertainty of the pandemic, there is no re-opening plan at this time," said Siebring.

News: June 22, 2020 issue

Relaunch —not relapse

Editorial Comment - Dana McArthur
 
 Perhaps you have also noticed a decided lapse in public health practices by many people out and about recently?
Physical distancing, directional arrows in stores, and frequent hand washing are beginning to be ignored by a significant number of people.
We are all weary of the distancing and heightened sense of alert of the past few months. However, there is a reason that most car accidents take place within just 30 kms of home —that's when we are most likely to relax and drop our guard.
Even though we are now in stage 2 of the re-launch, it's important to continue to take precautions. Many of the laws enacted to protect us from Covid-19 are still in place for a reason.
Business owners and the public all need to help support a healthy relaunch by following public health measures, practicing physical distancing and good hygiene, and continuing to act responsibly.
- Isolate if you're feeling sick.
- When out, maintain physical distancing of 2 metres.
- Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
- Cover coughs and sneezes and stay home if you are sick.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Wear a mask in public places where keeping a distance of 2 metres is difficult.
With the compounded financial, emotional, and physical hardships Albertans have shown a remarkable fortitude getting to stage 2. The health measures we have adhered to up until now have allowed businesses to slowly reopen, schools to plan welcoming students back, and larger gatherings are even possible —we are winning the battle!
So, let's all keep up the effort and not drop our guard at this critical stage, because the consequences of a relapse now —are just too great for everyone.

Town to host Drive-in Movie at Golf Course

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
In an effort to shake off the COVID-19 blues, Town of Edson Community Services will be hosting a family-friendly drive-in movie at the Edson Golf Course on June 19.
According to Town of Edson Community Development Coordinator Diana Inscho, the Town planned a drive-in movie at the airport a couple years ago but unfortunately had to cancel on account of the fire rescue situation at the time. “The event was wildly popular and it was a shame to have to cancel,” she said. “This year, because of the COVID restrictions, it was an event we could conceivably put on that would bring our community together while managing the restrictions.  Pop-up drive-ins have become very popular amongst many communities and are seeing a great resurgence. It’s a great way to give back to our community, and who doesn’t love a little nostalgia?”
Due to COVID-19, there will be some restrictions in place for the drive-in movie as per Alberta Health Services and the law.
Only one household per vehicle will be allowed. Ill individuals or those who are under self-isolation are asked not to attend. Sitting outside of one’s vehicle or on the roof, truck bed, or in the trunk will not be permitted. Windows can only be opened halfway and all vehicle doors must remain closed. Public washrooms are limited and are only to be used for emergencies. There will be no concession, so all attendants are asked to bring their own snacks. No outside speakers or A/C systems will be used. Attendants may bring their own FM stereo to avoid wearing down their car battery.  No motorhomes or RVs, no alcohol, no more people than seatbelts, no excessive idling, and no horn honking. If in need of assistance, text 780-723-8107 or raise your windshield wiper.
If patrons fail to comply with these rules, they will be asked to leave.
The cost for the drive-in movie will be $30 per vehicle, and tickets will only be available online through Eventbrite. Printed tickets are preferred and can be transferred to other vehicles. Only 100 vehicles will be permitted on site. Smaller vehicles will be asked to park in the front while larger vehicles will be asked to park in the back. Gates open at 9:30 pm and the movie will begin at 10 pm in the Golf Course parking lot. 
For more information, visit edson.ca/movie, the Town of Edson Community Services social media page, or Eventbrite.

 

2020 Grads: Take pride in face of adversity...

Editorial: by Dana McArthur

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed classroom and put a damper on graduation ceremonies across the region, and far beyond.
While the pandemic may have put an end to traditional graduation ceremonies, it hasn't stopped high schools in Edson and area from recognizing the extraordinary achievements of these graduating students of 2020.
A typical graduation day brings with it a roller coaster of emotions, and even more so this year, considering the realities these students have faced. As graduates, family, and friends celebration this achievement, they can take heart that their perseverance through adversity has paid off. It's now a time to reflect on these remarkable successes, as well as focus on hopes for the future.
As graduates, you are undoubtedly excited and nervous as you look forward to the beginning of a new chapter in your lives.  With certainty, there are far brighter and greater experiences ahead in life than anything you are leaving behind. When the pandemic is just a memory, take time to travel, seek your fortune, fall in love, make mistakes — and always continue to learn.
Just remember that your successes are measured by your perseverance, and kindness to others along the way. As Helen Keller implored, "The highest result of education is tolerance."
Parents have done their best to shape your minds and fill your hearts. With pride they have followed your progress as you advanced from one grade to the next –each achievement, each milestone representing a step further in your journey to adulthood.
For parents, it's now time to take a step back and watch you shine. This is a time where the spotlight is definitely on you the graduates, as well it should be, you have accomplished much —maybe more than any generation before you has!
As you don cap and gown, this may not be the graduation you envisioned, but it is still tangible proof of a job well done. It is also proof of a job well done by your parents, teachers, and role models that have helped along the way.
–Congratulations to all!
(See pages 10 and 11 of our June 8, 2020 issue for HRH Grad. We are also planning a special grad section for Parkland High School, but we'll need your support —see top of page 4 in the same issue.)

News: June 1, 2020 issue

Wildfire cuts and recent fire ban cause concerns and complaints

Questions raised to Minister Agriculture and Forestry office; fire ban replaced with fire advisory --- MLA states OHV ban repealed due to lobbying efforts ---
 
by Dana McArthur
 
Despite 2019 being one of the worst fire seasons in decades in Alberta, the provincial government's 2020 budget cut air tanker contracts by over $5 million, and its base wildfire management budget by over $9 million.
The cuts come as the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry reduces its expenses by 9.1% this year. The move will result in $23 million in savings for Alberta Wildfire, according to Minister Devin Dreeshen.
Alberta Wildfire will no longer be staffing 30 of the province's 127 wildfire detection towers as part of the cuts. Each lookout covers an area of approximately 5,000 square kilometers.
Cuts also came to Alberta's Helitack-Rappel (RAP program) which enables firefighters to rappel from helicopters to fight forest fires as early and quickly as possible. The UCP government has decided to slash the 63-person program, for an annual savings of $1.4 million.
Firefighting associations across Alberta have issued statements condemning the RAP cut stating it puts communities at risk.
There are two companies that provide air tanker services to Alberta. Once the contracts run out in August 2020, the province states they will hire the planes on an as-needed basis. However, company officials have stated that if they get a longer-term contract elsewhere, the province will have no air tankers and no one left to fly them.
The AUPE stated, "Alberta is world famous for its lush forests and scenic landscapes. However, the people who live in communities in these areas are in grave danger. In its budget last fall, the government made huge cuts to wildfire-fighting services, which it says will save $23 million. But Albertans know gambling on wildfire safety will not save money in the long run."
The Alberta government subsequently issued a fire ban on April 15 covering approximately 60% of the province, in the hope of slowing the start of wildfire season amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The fire ban included the Forest Protection Area, provincial parks, and protected areas.
The recreational use of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) was also banned on Crown land in the Forest Protection Area. But only two days later, on April 17, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen rescinded the ban on OHVs.
Despite the "low" fire hazard at the time, however, the provincial ban remained on campfires and fire pits within the Forest Protection Area which encompasses the Edson Forest Area covering most of Yellowhead County. This drew many complaints from local residents unable to enjoy an outdoor campfire amid the Covid crisis.
“This measure is in place to reduce human-caused wildfires when firefighting resources may be challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic,” stated Alberta Wildfire. “Taking action in advance to reduce the number of human-caused wildfires will allow Alberta Wildfire to make the best possible use of resources when the availability of firefighters could be reduced because of the pandemic.”
During Yellowhead County Council's May 19 meeting, UCP MLA Shane Getson for Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland answered questions from Council on the state of the current fire ban in the province.
Councillor Lavone Olson said, "The provincial government says [they] want to promote rural areas. All that people want to do is get out of their house and enjoy a small fire. People are asking me why they can't have a fire in their fire-pit when they have access to water."
MLA Getson responded asking, "How many 'guys' [sic] could you muster if we had a big ground fire over there?" He continued, "How many attack helicopters could the County get?" adding, "If a forest fire broke out right now we do not have the dollars and cents to fight it because of Covid ...all for the risk of someone having a open pit fire? I'll take that responsibility."
In an apparently facetious footnote, Geston added, "If you as a County are willing to take on the risk and costs of fighting a forest fire, I'd be happy to take that in writing to the Environment Minister."
County CAO Jack Ramme replied, "We have a wet year this season and we have a ban in the whole Fire Zone without the ability to make it area-specific. This was followed by an OHV ban that was then lifted, so the public is saying to us, that this makes no sense. When there is no logic people will get frustrated. It's a ban or it's not a ban."
Ramme added, "I am not aware of any forest fires that have been caused by a backyard fire pit in a hamlet or from a designated campground. Please forward this information to me so I can help spread the message to get citizen “buy in” as opposed to being the target." The Yellowhead County does not have any control over the Edson Forest Area regarding fire bans and fire permit requirements.
MLA Getson stated, "We had enough people lobbying us that it made sense to lift the OHV ban; it was a wet year and wouldn't be a problem." He then quipped, " If you want me to recommend a ban on OHVs, I can take that forward."
Mayor Jim Eglinski said, "I get the need to balance a budget and take from one area to give to another. My concern is we need to have a safety factor, the province needs to have a safety factor. If we leave ourselves shorthanded, I'd hate to see what happens."
County's Director of Protective Services Albert Bahri added, "There is no science to putting this ban in place and you are not listening to the experts you have saying that there is no hazard when there is a safe designated fire pit."
On Friday, May 22, The Weekly Anchor asked the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen's office a series of questions. The Minister responded that the province is experiencing an unprecedented situation fighting multiple crises as the same time, adding, "While 71% of wildfires last year were caused by humans, on average, less than 1% are caused by OHV use. This, coupled with a rather cool and damp spring, led to the lift of OHV restrictions."
Q: Despite the "LOW" fire hazard declared in the Edson Forest Management area by Alberta Wildfire, why [was] there a ban on campfires in campgrounds and fire-pits in the green zone —but in seeming incongruity, Off Highway Vehicles were allowed, despite their obvious fire risk?
A: The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is constantly monitoring fire risk region by region and comparing types of activities with the potential for wildfire. After reviewing this information, the Ministry felt it prudent to rescind its initial ban on OHV use.
Q: What advice or science is this decision to allow OHV use, but not campfires or fire-pits, based on when the fire danger is currently "low"?
A: OHV use results in a very small amount of the human-caused wildfires that Alberta experiences every year. I know that OHV enthusiasts and outdoorsmen love our backcountry and want to see it preserved for generations to come by taking the necessary precautions in order to safely enjoy our natural spaces. There are also helpful tips on how to avoid causing a fire while using an OHV on the alberta.ca website.
Q: When will the Fire Bans on campfires and fire-pits come off in the green zones and what factors need to take place before they are removed?
A: As of today [May 26], the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry has replaced the fire ban on the Forest Protected Areas with a fire advisory. Effectively this means that constituents of West Yellowhead may now safely enjoy their backyard fire pits, wood campfires in provincial campgrounds and private lands, as well as charcoal briquettes.
Q: Will Fire Bans of this nature inside the green zones become the "new normal"?
A: The majority of our forest fires occur during the spring months where large amounts of deadfall and lack of foliage provide plenty of fuel. This particular season, the government’s normal ability to access out-of-province firefighting resources was challenged due to the COVID pandemic. That is why this proactive approach was taken. Given the amount of moisture West Yellowhead has experienced this Spring, I certainly hope that the Ministry takes a region by region approach in the future, while constantly monitoring fire risk and the ability Alberta has to respond to an emergency.
Minister Dreeshen added, "Alberta’s great wildfire firefighters have already extinguished 243 fires this spring and continue to work hard to keep all Albertans, and their communities, safe. The province will continue to monitor the situation and will lift or add fire restrictions based on risk.”

News: May 25, 2020 issue

Local businesses begin economic relaunch

by Cassie Kushniruk

Phase 1 of Alberta’s 3-phase economic relaunch plan began on May 14, allowing some non-essential local businesses to re-open with enhanced infection prevention and controls in place.
One such business is The Other Side Hair Studio, which officially re-opened on May 18 and has been eagerly welcoming regular clients back to the styling chair. “People have been really great about following our new policies and everybody’s excited to get back in a get a little bit of pampering done after 10 weeks of [closure],” said co-owner Kat Drysdale.
The Other Side Hair Studio closed on March 18 along with many other businesses that provide non-essential services across the province. Although the studio moved to curbside pickup while closed to the public, Drysdale stated that roughly 75% in revenue was lost during this time.
Now that the studio has re-opened to the public, Drysdale stated that there are many changes the business has implemented in order to protect employees and community members from catching the Covid-19 virus. For example, all employees are required to wear masks and each client is provided with hand sanitizer, a mask, and a phone wipe upon arrival. Additionally, clients are asked a set of screening questions before entering the building and employees are only permitted to service one client at a time.
Although the studio was already “way above” industry standards for cleaning according to Drysdale, the business is taking extra precautions to clean and sanitize for the health and safety of all.
Currently, The Other Side Hair Studio is only accepting regular clients, although Drysdale noted that the studio does have a long wait list for new clients.
“We’re really excited to be open and moving forward,” Drysdale said.
Jensen’s Lifestyle Clothing is another local business that has recently re-opened after two months of being closed due to the virus.
The iconic store, which re-opened on May 14, has also been taking extensive safety measures, including cleaning and sanitizing, to protect both their employees and customers. Owner Brenden Gemmill added, “We have a plexi-glass guard up on both tills, hand sanitizer when you walk in, and we try to keep the door open as much as possible so people don’t have to touch it. Also, when people try clothes on, everything goes [in the basement] for 48 hours after people have touched it.”
According to Gemmill, although the re-opening has been quite a change, he stated that overall people are being “very courteous and respectful of others” when it comes to physical distancing within the store.
Although the store was able to secure some sales through their new website, curbside pickup, and social media auctions when closed, Gemmill stated that the business lost approximately 95% in revenue during that time. “We did all little things to stay relevant, but having your doors open is the only way to generate enough sales,” he said. “Right now everyone is just fighting to just pay their bills.”
One of the biggest challenges Jensen’s is currently facing is the cancellation of seasonal clothing lines from their regular suppliers. “Lots of suppliers have cancelled full seasons and lots of the summer [collections] were pushed back to spring 2021,” Gemmill explained. “Some suppliers have completely cut their fall [collections] too. We’ll just pick up more in the summer and hope there’s enough to get us through until the spring.”
Edson’s Original Joe’s restaurant recently re-opened for takeout and delivery on May 11 and re-opened their dining room at 50% capacity on May 14.
According to Managing Partner Chris Byer, Original Joe’s was notified that they would have to close their doors to the public on March 17 with only one day’s notice. This had a huge impact on the restaurant as they had recently ordered a large shipment of food and alcohol in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day, which took place on March 17. “All of a sudden we had all this perishable food that we had to get rid of, so we made a huge donation to the Edson Food Bank and all the staff came in and took what else was left over,” said Byer.
Although the restaurant’s re-opening on May 14 was slow according to Byer, he stated that this gave employees the chance to “get used to the new normal” with all the new rules and regulations in place.
“The staff have had to adapt to a whole new way of doing things,” said Byer. “Every day they come in they have to get their temperatures checked. We have multiple different checklists we have to go through now, and we’ve also had to change our menu bit to adapt to the current situation of only having 50% of our restaurant full.”
Byer added, “The biggest thing guests are going to notice is when you walk in, everyone is wearing a mask. There are hand sanitizer stations, signs asking you to sanitize, arrows on the floor, and signs reminding you to keep physical distance. Also, half of our tables are closed off and there’s only a maximum of six people per table.”
Although the restaurant is open to some capacity, Byer stated that the business is still down approximately 60-70% in revenue.
Similarly to Jensen’s, Byer stated that one of the biggest challenges the Original Joe’s is currently facing is product availability. “When everything shut down, our suppliers were left with this huge stock that they had, so either they had to return it or it perished, so we’re seeing issues with produce and alcohol,” he said.
“It’s great to be back open and we’re so happy to see familiar faces and people coming out and supporting local businesses,” said Byer.
Although the local McDonald’s fast food restaurant has not re-opened their dining room as of yet, owner Tony Mercer stated that they have taken many precautions to protect customers and employees in their drive-thru. “Right now we have all of our crew members wearing masks and gloves,” he said. “We have a plexi-glass barrier that is between the crew and the guests driving up, and they are continuously sanitizing portions of the keypad as well. We have also entertained what we call ‘pinpad extenders’, trying to utilize no-touch contact areas for both guests and crew.”
McDonald’s dining room closed during the third week in March, and Mercer plans to re-open the dining room for takeout in early June. “Hopefully if that goes well, we’ll open the dining portion of it after that time,” he said.
“McDonald’s has put a lot of emphasis on making sure that when we re-open that the safety and security of the staff and public are of the utmost importance. So where as some people may have moved ahead a little sooner with the re-opening of their takeout or dine-in, we’re going to be a little bit longer because we want to make sure that the safety of guests and our crew are looked after to the best of our ability.”
According to Mercer, the biggest challenge Edson’s McDonald’s is currently facing is sales and declined guest counts. However, Mercer hopes that once they re-open various phases of the business that more customers will come back and give them the opportunity to show what they have been doing to protect everyone’s health and safety. “We at McDonald’s have really tried to take it a step above to make sure that the health and wellbeing is of the utmost importance,” he said. “As we open dine-in and takeout, I think people that come into the restaurant will recognize that,” he said.
“These are unprecedented times, and with that comes a little bit of a difference in operating for everybody, but hopefully we can get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Mercer said.

News: May 18, 2020 issue

COVID-19 restrictions for Edson and area campgrounds

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
With the warming of the weather and the approaching summer months, many people are beginning to pack up their campers and trailers for a weekend get-away to one of the areas’ many beautiful campgrounds. However, with COVID-19 provincial protocols still in place, it is important to be aware of current campground restrictions for both Town of Edson and Yellowhead County campgrounds to make the most out of your weekend away. 
Edson’s Willmore Park, which offers 41 non-serviced auto access campsites and one large backcountry campsite, will open for camping on June 1, with registration beginning on May 14. Camping will be by reservation only, with a maximum one-week reservation at a time. Only one camping unit will be allowed per site. RVs with a functioning toilet/shower are required so campers can self-isolate. In this way, tenting will not be allowed.
In keeping with provincial health protocols, physical distancing of two meters is mandatory when visiting Willmore Park. Group size restrictions are in place as per the provincial mandate, which currently sits at a maximum of 15 people. Additionally, visiting and co-mingling at campsites will also be prohibited to ensure physical distancing.
If you are experiencing symptoms including cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, or sore throat that are not related to a pre-existing illness or health condition, do not enter the campground to avoid infecting others.
The Town of Edson recommends bringing alcohol-based hand sanitizer to Willmore Park for hand hygiene when soap and water are not available, such as on long hikes. A cloth or sheet is also recommended to cover picnic tables before using them.
Provincial fire bans also apply to Willmore Park, so visit albertafirebans.ca for the latest details before building a fire at your site.
Town of Edson Communications Coordinator Steve Bethge stated that there will be a caretaker at Willmore Park who will be monitoring the park as per usual. “If there are people not following the restrictions, [the caretaker]is able to ask the Town or RCMP (if it’s an immediate danger situation) for assistance. For the most part, we expect people will be respectful of the rules in place. If we find the provincial health orders are not being followed, we would have no choice but to consider shutting things down again.”
Bethge noted that these restrictions will have a small impact on capacity at Willmore Park for camping, as there will be a few sites that will not be active to ensure proper physical distancing. “It shouldn’t have a substantial impact,” he said.
Although there is no timeline as to how long these restrictions will be in place at Willmore Park, Bethge stated that the Town of Edson will be monitoring and seeking guidance from the province and AHS.
Yellowhead County’s six campgrounds, including Bear Lake, Shiningbank Lake, Long Lake, Beta Lake, Jerry Vanderwell Memorial Park, and Nojack, will be open for camping starting May 28.
County campgrounds are self-registration parks and are patrolled daily and nightly by campground operators to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay.
Similar to the Town of Edson, Yellowhead County will be following all provincial restrictions as mentioned above, including proper physical distancing protocols. “We are not going to be creating new or different rules; we are following Alberta Health and the Alberta government,” said Director of Community Services Christopher Read.
“The biggest thing that we are telling all our campers is that each individual camper must bear the responsibility for their own safety and that of their fellow campers and the operator,” Read stated.
County campsites will be open for limited non-contact service only, meaning that campground outhouses will be closed, potable water sources will not be available, some service levels may be reduced, some areas or campsites may not be accessible, and operators will be working in a non-contact basis.
“We’re all in this together and every one of us has an obligation to protect ourselves and our neighbors, friends, staff, and everybody around us,” said Read.“Just because we have this access, doesn’t mean it’s a free for all; we are obligated to protect each other.”
For more information on provincial camping restrictions, visit www.alberta.ca/guidance-on-outdoor-activities.aspx.

News: May 11, 2020 issue

Community convoy shows support for seniors isolated by COVID-19

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
Edson and area residents, businesses, and dignitaries, showed support for seniors isolated by COVID-19 through a Convoy for Seniors event hosted by The Weekly Anchor on May 5.  
According to event organizer Deanna Mitchener with The Weekly Anchor, the idea behind the event stemmed from the Parkland Lodge residents placing red hearts on their windows to “show those walking and driving by that they cared”. “I thought as a community we could show our seniors we cared about them,” said Mitchener. “I spoke to our Town Mayor Kevin Zahara to see if this could be a possibility. He ran it past Town Council and from there it blossomed thanks to the support of the community coming together.”
People from all walks of life had the opportunity to participate in the convoy, including Edson and Yellowhead County Mayors, Edson Town Council, MLA Martin Long, the local RCMP detachment, the Edson Fire Department, and motor vehicle enthusiasts sporting classic cars and motorcycles. “People that just wanted to come out to try and brighten our seniors’ day brought their vehicles, some made signs, others had balloons, and some went all out with dressing up their vehicle,” Mitchener added.
The convoy departed from Repsol Place and first passed by the SCOPE and McMann houses, as well as the seniors apartments located near Kinsmen Park. Following this, the group made their way to Parkland Lodge, where some residents waved from the front parking lot, others from the side balconies, and others from their individual rooms. Later, the convoy passed by the Edson Healthcare Centre in an effort to recognize local medical professionals for all their hard work during these difficult times.
When asked how the seniors enjoyed the event, Mitchener replied, “From people I talked with, the expression on their face said it all —from smiles to cheers and even some tears. Overall I think it was a great experience and something everybody looked forward to. With so many people having to physical distance and nothing to do, I believe it brightened our whole community.”
Parkland Lodge Resident Coordinator Cindy Harding noted that the Lodge residents loved the convoy and were happy to know that they are still very much appreciated during these difficult times. “It’s really nice for them to be reminded that people that live in Edson know that they’re here and that they’re special,” she said.“The residents have made a lot of sacrifices for this, but they haven’t complained about it; they’re happy that they are here and safe. But that doesn’t mean they don’t miss the social contact with people.”
Evergreens Foundation Social Housing Manager Vivian Williams stated that the convoy, which also passed by the Heatherwood Manor/Heritage Court seniors apartments, was thoroughly enjoyed by all. “[The seniors] get limited visitation,” she said. “Some who are healthier will leave the building, but those with immune system problems or underlying conditions have been staying completely in their apartments, so to see all the companies that are thinking about them is very important socially for them.”
Mayor Zahara noted, “It certainly warmed my heart to see so many people participate and improve the spirits of the seniors and medical professionals in our community. In such challenging times, it's moments like these that bring the community together. There were huge smiles on the faces of the seniors which was great to see.”
Mitchener thanked everyone for coming together to make this event special for the seniors. “It may have been my idea, but there’s no way I could’ve done it without the support of everyone that was in the convoy and those that came out to watch. It was a great way for the community to come together all while still being able to keep their physical distance.”

News: May 4, 2020 issue

Council discusses 2020 Mill Rate Bylaw;
agrees on 20/80 residential to non-residential split

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
In order for Town Administration to send out tax notices to property owners, Town Councildiscussed possible mill rate distributions for the 2020 emergency budgetduring their April 28 Committee of the Whole meeting.
On April 21, 2020, Council revised the 2020 budget to address issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the budget decision, Council passed the equivalent of a 5% tax revenue decrease from the previously passed 2020 budget. Council also included a $100 utility bill credit in the budget for every residential utility account.
Approximately $1.8 million was removed from the emergency budget, $564,000 of which was used for the tax reduction plan. The remainder of the funds will be placed into a reserve for future economic recovery strategies, which will also act as a buffer in the event of possible tax defaults in 2020.
According to Corporate Services Manager Mike Passey, the Town of Edson’s total taxable assessment for the 2020 tax year decreased by approximately $35 million. “$33 million of itwas residential assessment, so with the residential mill rate we’ll see a greater change than the non-residential mill rate,” he said.
During the time for questions and comments from Council, Councillor Troy Sorenson said, “I believe we should be applying the majority of the reduction to a non-residential mill rate, so I would be in support of the 0/100 [residential to non-residential split]or the 20/80. I believe the biggest risk right now to our town is job security and business continuance, so anything we can do to help businesses continue throughout this COVID crisis is going to create job security and that will help people at all levels in our community.”
Councillor Krystal Baier concurred, adding, “We have a lot of large corporations that aren’t suffering right now, and although it is nice to get a break in taxes, they are the ones that I think can afford continuing as things are. But there are a lot of other businesses that are struggling and are shut down completely. I know Council has talked about our desire to stimulate our economy downtown and help those businesses out. Is there any way to target a geographical approach to certain areas in Town?”
Passey replied that this would not be possible at this time, although there are “possibilities in the future of dividing the subclasses of non-residential and creating subclasses of that”.
Mayor Kevin Zahara added, “We’ve just been allowed to do that through legislation this spring, so this is fairly new to the system.”
Councillor Gean Chouinard commented, “I’m leaning towards the 50/50 split. We need to support residential and non-residential but we have to remember that these business people do employ people in our town, so we should do an equal split with the savings and give to both.”
Councillors Jacqui Currie, Trevor Bevan, and Baier expressed support for a 20/80 residential to non-residential split. This means that per $100,000 in assessment, residential taxpayers would see a reduction of about $13 from the original 2020 budget. Non-residential taxpayers would see a reduction of about $100 per $100,000 in assessment from the original 2020 budget.
Councillor Janet Wilkinson said, “I like the 50/50 split. Not everyone is benefiting from the utility bill.”
Mayor Zahara stated, “I’m good with a 20/80 split. For most residential, I think the utility credit is going to be far more impactful than any tax decrease based on assessment. It’s our business community that’s hurting right now and this will help those businesses hopefully employ some people.”
CAO Mike Derricott closed, “What we’ve heard is that there’s a preference for the 20/80 residential to non-residential split. We’ll prepare to bring forward a Mill Rate Bylaw to the next Council meeting.”

News: April 27, 2020 issue

Province cuts Parent Link funding for Town of Edson

Edson Friendship Centre to provide early prevention programming to residents
 
by Cassie Kushniruk
 
In November of 2019, the Town of Edson and the Edson Friendship Centre received notice that the province would be cancelling various grants and contracts funding Parent Link Centres and other prevention and early intervention services.
Although both organizations submitted an Expression of Interest (EOI) to continue working with the Province within the new Family Resource Network model of prevention and early intervention, the Edson Friendship Centre was the successful applicant as the new Family Resource Network location in Edson. As a result, the Town of Edson has experienced a $117,000 annual funding loss which directly impacts the FCSS/ParentLink Centre.
According to the newly developed model of service, the Province describes Family Resource Networks (FRN’s) as “inclusive and accessible family-focused, child and youth-centered, community-based centers that offer a full continuum of prevention and early intervention services”. The FRN will provide universal, targeted and intensive programs, services and supports based on the needs of families and children and youth aged 0-18 years.
Town of Edson Community Development Manager Tanya Byers stated that the financial pressures of COVID-19 have made it “a really difficult time to receive this news”, and also noted that the pandemic has“taken away our opportunity to provide our families with a proper good-bye prior to packing up the FCSS/ParentLink Centre in the Red Brick Arts Centre”.
“From the feedback we’ve gotten over the years, [the Edson FCSS/ParentLinkCentre] is a place that families go to learn, feel safe, supported, and meet new people that are going through similar every day struggles and joys of being a parent,” said Byers.“We have a large number of young families in our area that really count on this service. I am very proud of the program our staff have worked hard to build over the years, and it’s really hard to see it go.”
For many years, a portion of the Town's FCSS Provincial funding has been allocated to programming at the FCSS/ParentLink Centre. However, with the majority of the funding for this program coming from Parent Link, Byers stated that they will experience “a significant decrease in direct service levels for families with children age 0-6 provided by the Town of Edson.”
On a more positive note, Byers said that there are still many meaningful services being offered by FCSS staff to support families and individuals of all ages. “We will bounce back from this disappointment with new and innovative ways to provide services for residents,” she said. “We will continue to collaborate with our community partners to ensure we are all rowing in the same direction to support the residents of Edson and our neighbours in Yellowhead County.”
Byers added, “Our FCSS Advisory Committee and Administration will examine the impact this loss of funding will have on our 2020 budget and make decisions on how best to re-allocate the FCSS budget and set future program direction.”
Byers indicated that she is in full support of the all-inclusive delivery model outlined by the Province, and looks forward to seeing the programs they will be offering under the new model at the Edson Friendship Centre.
“The programs will be similar, but a little bit different,” explained Edson Friendship Centre Director Kristie Gomuwka.“What we did get is two family support positions to work with families with children 7-18 and one family home visitation worker, which will work with 0-6 year olds. The other piece to that is that we will be doing parent education throughout the community.”
“This was a fairly big success that we’ve experienced, and although this does not replace the lost contract, it definitely has given us the ability to continue to provide services that we would have lost if we didn’t get it,” Gomuwka mentioned. “I think it will be an opportunity for families who need some additional educational support in terms of parenting and child development.”
Gomuwka stated that the Edson Friendship Centre will be partnering with existing service providers in the community to look at ways “we can complement each other’s programs” and address service gaps.
“We’ve been really busy trying to plan and do some work on how well roll out this new program,” said Gomuwka.
Although the Edson Friendship Centre’s office is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gomuwka stated that they are still able to take referrals over the phone. “We are able to offer support on whatever platform, whether it’s texting or internet or facetiming,” she said.

News: April 20, 2020 issue

Town trims capital budget amidst COVID-19 crisis

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
During Town Council’s April 14 Committee of the Whole meeting, Council was presented with a revised 2020 capital budget in an effort to save money amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
Carryover projects from 2019 include, but are not limited to, the creation of a new snow dump ($850,000), the creation of a new landfill cell ($438,494), and Vision Park well/washroom upgrades ($1,977,295).
Additions to the budget include the installment of pedestrian lights ($45,000), a road assessment survey ($115,000), the creation of a landfill south cell ($150,000), and the Degas upgrade design ($150,000).
Councillor Troy Sorenson commented, “I would like the road assessment survey split over two years. I see the value of it …I’m just looking for ways to reduce.”
“I am a little worried about our ultimate reserve levels,” Sorenson added. “I’d like to see some rules of thumb on where our reserves end up at a specific time.”
CAO Mike Derricott noted, “It certainly works that [the road assessment survey] can be broke up over multiple years. We may lose some efficiency in terms of mobilization, which may ultimately increase the overall cost, so that may be one reason to consider not doing that.”
“In terms of reserves, that’s something already on Administration’s radar in terms of a reserve policy or plan that would give some guidance to that,” Derricott said.
Councillor Gean Chouinard suggested putting the new snow dump and Vision Park upgrades on hold this year in order to save more money to address COVID-19 financial implications. However, CAO Derricott cautioned against this, saying, “From conversations with this Council on many different levels, snow removal is a service that is held as critical to the residents and having a functional snow dump is very important to maintain that level of service. Deferring the snow dump I think would be problematic, potentially compromising our snow removal program.
Derricott continued, “In terms of the Vision Park project …this is an area where I think we have the best opportunity to do it. I suspect we’re going to end up with limited to no activity at Vision Park, so this may be the perfect time for us to go out and accomplish a project like that.”
Councillor Janet Wilkinson asked, “Did we get the grant for Vision Park?”
Acting General Manager of Corporate Services Sarah Bittner replied, “Yes, that grant was from the federal gas tax fund, so we’re using the $1.1 million for Vision Park.”
Wilkinson then asked if the funds from that grant could be used for other projects, to which CAO Derricott replied, “Absolutely.”
“I think right now that [Vision Park] isn’t being used, I’d much rather see this money transferred somewhere and used to help people out,” Wilkinson said.
Councillor Sorenson expressed support for the Vision Park upgrades and the snow dump development.
“I would like Council to consider preparing the plans, drawings, and quotes for a trail around Edson,” Sorenson added. “We have record numbers of people using our trail systems right now. I would like a trail planned down 63rd street, down 22nd avenue to Edson road, and then onto the new Multiplex site and onto Vision Park. I’m not suggesting we do the actual work, but I’m just saying to have it planned out and ready for grants.”
Councillor Krystal Baier commented, “I think this is an ideal year to do [the Vision Park upgrades] with less users in that area.”
Baier continued, “I would love to see hundreds of kilometers of trails in town, but I don’t know if this is the year to increase a plan on it.”
Mayor Kevin Zahara stated, “I’m in full support of the Vision Park well water [upgrades]. It’s not just for the users of Vision Park, but it’s also going to help with our water capacity on that end of town. We have a huge ball community in our town and that is a very important facility for our region.”
“I’m really concerned about the condition of our transportation network in town,” Zahara added. “With all the rain that we saw last year, it seems to have really deteriorated, and if there was an opportunity to enhance our road rehabilitation budget this year, I certainly would be willing to explore that.”
Councillor Jacqui Currie noted, “I am in full support of the Vision Park upgrades this year. I think that we could probably get that project done at a lower cost than we would at any other time.”
Currie added, “I do have concerns about doing another [trail] design. Looking at our capital budget, over $600,000 this year is just for designs, not actual work, so I do have concerns with three massive design projects happening, and then adding a fourth one all in one year.”
Councillor Trevor Bevan closed saying, “I think our trails are very nice here, but I’m not in favor of spending a lot of money putting in new ones. I believe our roads are our number one concern out there right now.”
This item will be brought forward at a future Council meeting for final discussion and approval.

News: April 13, 2020 issue

Town extends tax deadline and defers utility payments due to COVID-19

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
On March 24, the Emergency Management Advisory Committee, consisting of Town Council, a limited number of Town Administration, and representatives from Alberta Health Services and Edson RCMP, met to discuss various issues concerning the COVID-19 virus outbreak. 
Out of that meeting, the Committee recommended that Town Council defer utility payments for the months of March, April, May, and June.Additionally, the Committee also advised that Council extend the tax deadline to September 30 in order to give residents more time to pay their tax notices.
At the April 7 Town Council meeting, Council requested that Administration make some changes to the taxation dates for 2020 to help alleviate some of the burden that has been placed on taxpayers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A motion was brought forward that Council give three readings to Bylaw 2244, amending Bylaw 2106, to allow for a temporary change to the taxation due date and the penalty run dates, for the year 2020.
This Bylaw has the following changes to the dates for 2020: taxes due on September 30, 2020; first penalty run on October 1, 2020; and second penalty run on November 1, 2020.
Acting General Manager of Corporate Services Sarah Bittner mentioned, “The penalties, if not run this year, would affect our revenue for this year. If no penalties were run until January of next year, we would lose about $100,000 of revenue based on other years.”
The motion brought forward was carried unanimously by Council.
Later during the April 7 meeting, a motion was also brought forward to suspend penalties on unpaid utility accounts until the bills due August 25, 2020 and give utility customers until the end of 2020 to pay unpaid balances.
Those who are part of the Pre-Authorized Payment (PAP) programwould continue to have their utility payments processed through their accounts monthly as usual, unless they contact the Town to be removed from the program. If a PAP account is processed and returned NSF, the Town would not process the NSF and the account holder would not be penalized by the Town.
Councillor Krystal Baier commented, “I feel that with people’s cash flow right now and with the government having a few programs that may help people struggling right now, that hopefully by this time they will be in a better position to pay some of these bills that are coming in right now.”
Mayor Kevin Zahara stated that he would support the deferral, but also expressed concern that people may not be able to afford to pay these bills at the end of the deferral period. “We should be forgiving at least one month’s utility bills for our residents …or give some sort of credit for a month or two just to provide some additional assistance during this time,” he explained.
The motion was carried unanimously by Council.