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Tag: Patrick Thomas

Silhouettes of three people deliberating at a table.

Crowsnest Pass council considers projects for 2024

Crowsnest Pass council began the first step Aug. 17 of considering what projects they’d like to have included in next year’s budget.

While many might be considered as lofty goals, each one of the 31 proposals was looked at thoroughly with CAO Patrick Thomas providing background information and feedback, where needed.

Topping the list, in cost, at $8.5 million is a new multi-use facility that would include a gymnastics centre, climbing wall, indoor soccer pitch, and meeting rooms for community and sports groups.

So far, $3.8 million has been set aside in a reserve fund.

Also brought into the discussion: a new $5-million municipal office. The funding, if approved at a later meeting, would see $1 million put away in each of the next five years, starting in 2024.

But, it was some of the smaller concepts that drew the bulk of discussion during the meeting, which lasted over three hours. 

This included the Coleman washroom, with an estimated value of $160,000. The structure is to be built on a stretch of the community trail system used by walkers, joggers, skaters and cyclists. 

The exact location, however, has yet to be decided on. It’s being considered for 2024 funding.

While no cost was given, a potential trail or pathway between Bellevue and Frank might also be in the offing.

 

Tires on ad for safe winter travel with winter tires from Fountain Tire in Pincher Creek

 

Another investment that’s much needed, but for different reasons, and at a considerably larger expense, is a street sweeper.

With only one unit to cover Blairmore, Coleman, Frank, Hillcrest and Bellevue, councillors believe it’s money well spent.

The existing sweeper will be kept strictly as an emergency backup.

Also on the list is $2 million in funding upgrades to Gazebo Park in Blairmore, which hosts a farmers market during the spring and summer months.

Any improvements would complement the downtown core, which has undergone a facelift of its own.

Council will divide the cost between its 2024 and 2025 budgets.

Not approved, but not necessarily off the table, are improvements to the new Eco Centre in Frank. At a cost of $75,000, the proposal would have seen a new concrete pad put down and fencing placed around the collection bins.

It’s something that might be looked at again, for 2025.

A planned $1-million investment for the Hillcrest ball diamonds has also been taken off the table for now.

It, too, might come back for discussion next year or the year after.

A second budgetary meeting is planned for Monday, Sept. 18, at 9 a.m. at the municipal council chambers.

 

Plate of Charlie Biggs' chicken tenders with sauces on the side and link to Blairmore menu.

 

Three people skating on outdoor rink shown from knees down

C.N.P. council funds temporary outdoor rink, park improvements

During its June 20 meeting, Crowsnest Pass council approved two expenditures that will help improve outdoor recreation for residents.

Temporary outdoor rink 

Earlier this year the parks and recreation advisory committee began exploring options for a viable location for an outdoor skating rink. The idea was to pick a suitable area and run a test season to see if a permanent rink would be successful.

Several locations were considered, such as Frank Playground, Gazebo Park, Flumerfelt Park, Pete’s Park and Hillcrest Memorial. Ultimately, space just south of the Coleman Complex was selected.

The Coleman Complex was chosen partly because all necessary equipment and staff are on-site. When open, the building also provides a heated place for skaters to warm up.

Council approved the committee’s request to fund expenses of the rink, set at $1,750. Expenses include installing the ice ($911), wages for workers maintaining the rink ($647.70) and clearing the rink for an estimated five heavy snow events ($189.80).

With all the information provided by the committee, Coun. Dean Ward said moving forward with the trial rink is a logical thing for the municipality to do.

“I’m not convinced yet 100 per cent that an outdoor skating rink makes sense, but I think this is  a good way to give it a try,” he said. “It’s cheap, it’s reasonable, it’s in a good location — if it works out, let’s do something for permanent next year. This is a good way to trial it.”

Building the outdoor rink outside the complex, added Coun. Lisa Sygutek, is a good step toward determining a permanent location.

“I like the idea of trying it out here as it’s only a $1,700 ticket,” said Sygutek. “And if it’s super, super well used, the group really felt the best bang for the buck would be to do it at Pete’s Park and that we could look into that and budget implications in the future.”

 

Solar panel on ad for Riteline Electric in Pincher Creek

 

Bellevue Memorial Park

At the request of the Bellecrest Association, council voted in favour of covering $5,500 in unexpected costs spent re-grading and landscaping the picnic area west of the concession in Bellevue Memorial Park.

Due to a water main break a few years ago, the picnic area had been rendered unusable. About 1,000 square yards was levelled with concrete blocks, a border of limestone boulders and compacted gravel to revitalize the space.

The association had $5,000 of funding at its disposal and initial permission from the parks department to go ahead, but unforeseen issues bumped up the overall project cost. These included the need for deeper trenches for electric and sprinkler lines, extra concrete blocks, and cutting back broken concrete to allow for better grading.

Despite the larger-than-expected cost, Coun. Doreen Glavin said the work was something that needed to be completed.

“I actually commend Bellcrest Association for actually improving it and fixing it, because as far as I’m concerned it was a big safety issue,” she said. “I understand maybe they shouldn’t have went ahead and did it, but they did have permission not to grade the slope towards the adjacent lot because that’s how it was to start with.”

“There’s an awful lot more usable space there now,” added Coun. Glen Girhiny. “It surprised me how much room there was there, actually, in the end, compared to what it was before. It should’ve been fixed a long time ago.”

Not talking to the municipality about the situation before the work was completed, however, was something that concerned council and administration.

“My only concern here is process. I’m concerned that groups will go out, do work, without talking to the municipality first, and then they show up here,” said Coun. Ward. “To me they should’ve come to administration before they did the work. You don’t get to just do stuff and then show up and say here’s the bill.”

“It would be better to come at the front end and we can make a conscious decision if that’s a project we’re going to go ahead with, instead of coming at the tail end,” added CAO Patrick Thomas.

Although OK with covering the cost, Coun. Sygutek said the municipality’s expectations needed to be made clear with the Bellecrest Association.

“Those issues are going to come at us with any group. The difference is this group is a very functional group and they did a really great job,” she said, “but I think that they need, not a reprimand, but it made very clear that they need to come to us in these situations.”

As a result, council directed administration to provide the needed funds and also send a letter to the association explaining the municipality’s expectations.

Next meeting

The next Crowsnest council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Man's hands – one writing with a pen and the other on a calculator

Pass council approves extra taxes, squares away half of added revenue

The Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is on track to take in over $1 million more in property taxes than was laid out in this year’s budget.

Budget 2023 projected roughly $10.2 million in municipal taxes when it was passed by council last December.

Council on April 4 unanimously approved a property tax rate bylaw that brings in roughly an extra $1.1 million, for an approximate total of $11.3 million in municipal taxes. The bylaw also authorizes the municipality to collect provincial taxes for education, as well as extra municipal taxes for seniors housing.

The property tax bump comes on the heels of a roughly 12 per cent annual rise in assessed property values across the Pass. Property assessments, finalized in February, added about $130 million to the Pass’s total tax base, according to an executive summary of the bylaw attached to council’s agenda. 

 

Young girl in multi-coloured jacket and bright pink helmet and ski pants, grins broadly while skating with arms outstretched.

 

What’s the difference? And how does it hit home? 

Budget 2023 initially projected a two per cent property tax increase in order to maintain service levels and balance the budget, according to a summary of the bylaw. The extra $1.1 million in property taxes represents a roughly 11 per cent increase over that projection. 

The impact on individual taxpayers will depend on this year’s mill rates, so-called because they set municipal tax levies per $1,000 in assessed property value, and how much a given property rose or fell in assessed value, according to chief administrative officer Patrick Thomas. 

The Pass’s residential mill rate fell from around 10.5 to around 7.5. At the same time, just over 80 per cent of properties either retained their assessed values or saw those values climb by up to 15 per cent. 

Municipal taxes on a home valued at $300,000 last year would rise nearly $335 in 2023 if that home’s assessment came in 15 per cent higher year-over-year. Taxes for the same home would drop by around $120 if its assessed value held at $300,000.   

Slightly over six per cent of Pass properties went down in assessed value, Thomas explained.

 

Display of fall clothing at at Emerald & Ash Clothing in Crowsnest Pass.

 

How will council spend the extra dough? 

Council unanimously voted to bank half of the extra tax revenue and spread the other half across a short list of new initiatives: $250,000 for a new trails master plan proposed by Coun. Lisa Sygutek; $64,000 for capital upgrades to Crowsnest Community Library; $70,000 for environmental monitoring projects at two area landfills, both recommended by administration; a $22,000 grant for Crowsnest CanDo — the non-profit organization lobbying to revive the Pass’s Roxy Theatre — tabled by Coun. Dean Ward; $200,000 for various road repair initiatives tabled by Couns. Ward and Doreen Glavin; and $30,000 for new beautification projects, following a motion by Sygutek. 

Sygutek said the Pass needs a new trails master plan to prepare for the massive influx in regional tourism backed by Travel Alberta last fall.

“The tourist stuff is coming, whether we want it to or not,” and staking municipal funds would boost the Pass’s chances of landing supplementary grants from the federal and provincial governments, she added.

Ward noted that the Pass and surrounding areas were promoted as tourist destinations at the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta’s convention in January.

Painter said the master plan initiative was “critical” to the Pass’s tourist economy. 

“I wish it had been done last year,” he said.

 

Downhill skier catches air on ad inviting skiers to stop at Miner's Mercantile in Beaver Mines on their way to the Castle Mountain ski hill.

 

What’s driving municipal taxes? 

The higher tax burden partly reflects a steep climb in property values since the “buying frenzy” that hit the Pass’s real estate market at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Christopher Snelgrove of Benchmark Assessment Consultants, the Lethbridge firm that handles the Pass’s property value assessments.

“I saw roughly twice as many [real estate] sales compared to pre-Covid years,” Snelgrove continued, noting that the Pass’s natural beauty and slower pace of life strongly appeal to urban professionals.  

Inflationary pressure on the Pass’s real estate market added roughly $92.5 million in overall assessed property value, according to council documents. Real estate development — new builds, renovations and other improvements — meanwhile added roughly $38.5 million. 

There are no physical barriers to real estate speculation in the Pass (or anywhere, for that matter). Not so for local development, which is sharply constrained by the region’s mountainous topography. 

The Pass will run out of room to grow unless it were to annex land from neighbouring municipalities, Snelgrove explained.

 

 

A reach too far? 

Council was rather exacting in its budget deliberations last fall, when it earmarked about $575,000 for 18 out of 42 proposals for new initiatives at a combined ask of nearly $20 million. 

Council passed the extra tax increase after a lengthy discussion at chambers on March 28, when the property tax rate bylaw came up for first reading. 

“While it looks like a bit of windfall for Crowsnest Pass, it definitely isn’t when you look at the improvements we’re looking at in the near future,” Coun. Vicki Kubik said on April 4. 

Councillors joined the mayor and chief administrative officer Patrick Thomas in pointing out that the province has steadily “downloaded” costs onto small municipalities since 2021. Many of these costs were budgeted for in December, but Kubik and Painter stressed that more are still to come, especially the Pass’s bill for policing costs.

Firefighter gear hanging on fire hall wall

Hillcrest fire station to remain open

Historic buildings play an important role in the cultural identity of a community. As buildings age and their initial uses get transferred to modern facilities, however, rising maintenance costs can bring up questions about how much maintaining cultural identity is worth.

Such was the conversation about Hillcrest’s Fire Station 4 during Crowsnest Pass council’s Oct. 18 regular meeting. Administration brought the topic forward with the recommendation that council close the firehall due to the facility not meeting current fire protection standards, specifically in equipment requirements and staffing levels.

Only two volunteers man the station. One works a mining shift schedule and the other is in their late 70s and has reduced work function. The Fire Underwriters Survey, a fire insurance statistical group, states the minimum staff level for a station to be recognized is 10 personnel.

On top of requiring considerable upkeep and operating costs, the aging hall also is unable to house a front-line fire engine. Currently, the only firefighting truck is a 2001 Ford Type 6 brush/wildland truck that is past its end of life.

Emergency services calls to Hillcrest are serviced from Station 3 in Bellevue. Closing the Hillcrest station would not affect Hillcrest’s emergency or fire protection.

Closing the hall, said CAO Patrick Thomas, would allow the municipality to utilize the building and the respective funds in a more meaningful way, but would in no way be meant as a slight against the legacy of the facility.

“First and foremost, no one wants to go and put forth that there is not an immense appreciation for the years of service that have come out of that hall,” he said.

“That is not the intent, to try and put any slight against that. This is more looking at it from a business sense. It’s essentially just running as a hall on paper and nothing more.”

Though recognizing the financial commitment to the hall did not result in any additional advantages to the municipality’s fire response, Coun. Lisa Sygutek said keeping the hall open would carry a deeper meaning than monetary value could communicate.

“Sometimes there’s things you just do because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

“It shouldn’t have a cost price attached to it. This is a community that has nothing left in it — it has the Hillcrest Fish and Game, it’s got the Miners Club, and it’s got a facility that matters to them. It matters to them for their perceived safety.”

“Even if we don’t feel that it matters to their safety, for them, it matters for their safety,” Sygtuek continued.

“There’s right things to do and wrong things to do, in my opinion, and in this situation we are removing so many things from the community in such a short period of time, I’m just not willing to do this one.”

Coun. Vicki Kubik agreed.

“As it is, I get the financial part of it, but I also understand the connection that people have that gives them that sense of community, and a fire hall can be an important part of that,” she said.

“The general consensus when I meet with the constituents in that area is they would be really offended to have the firehall closed. They perceive it to be something that speaks to their safety.”

“I wonder if they just don’t even know that there’s nothing in that hall that would service them,” Kubik added.

“There is a lot of concern expressed about the railroad tracks and how long it would take for them to receive service if they needed it. Just on principle alone, given what the constituents in that area have told me, I can’t in good conscience vote in favour of closing the Hillcrest firehall either.”

Although still reliant on Bellevue, Coun. Doreen Glavin said, previous experience showed a station in Hillcrest could make a difference when a life was on the line.

“I know in one instance they didn’t do that [wait for help from Bellevue] and they went and helped with a heart attack patient. And whether it be medical or even a vehicle accident, I would feel better with having it closed if the personnel that live in that community can respond without having to go to the fire station first before they acted on whatever the emergency situation would be,” she said.

“I’m really concerned, we see it all the time with CP Rail, [where] that train is stuck on the tracks.”

Sentiments aside, however, the fact remained: the station did not have enough staff or the right equipment to provide an acceptable level of emergency service.

“Maybe what administration needs to do is to put it out to the public and say, ‘Hey look, these are the options: if we can’t get volunteers from this community to be members of the fire department, we are going to be forced to close this hall,’ ” said Mayor Blair Painter. “Lay it out in black and white and see if anybody steps forward.”

Apart from volunteers, the major issue was lack of equipment, said Coun. Dave Filipuzzi.

“Even if you recruited six people in the Hillcrest area — what are they going to do? There’s not going to be no equipment there,” he said. “You’re still going to have to go to either Bellevue or Blairmore.”

“I mean you’re going to a hall that’s got nothing in it. Even if you got 20 people from Hillcrest, it’s still got no value,” Filipuzzi continued.

“Other than you know what, the value that it’s got, is that ‘Hey we still got the Hillcrest firehall. Even though it’s falling down around us, we’ve got a nice rock outside and we got a nice thing outside and this looks great.’ But the value of it — think of the value of it. Does it have value to the community? No, it don’t.”

Closing Station 4, he said, would mean the municipality could repurpose it to fulfil another need. “It’s not like we’re just going to go there and plow it over,” he said.

Keeping the hall open, added Mayor Painter, would mean ignoring the facts of the issue and the logical course of action for the municipality to take as a whole.

“You’re not thinking with your head, you’re thinking with your heart. And that’s not always in the best interest of the community,” he said.

Council eventually voted not to close Station 4.

At the request of Coun. Sygutek, a recorded vote was taken. Mayor Painter and Couns. Filipuzzi and Girhiny voted in favour of closing the hall, while Couns. Sygutek, Kubik, Glavin and Ward opposed its closure.

Kids trick or treating in lion costumes – one roaring and one smiling on the front page of Shootin' the Breeze. Alberta news from Pincher Creek area and Crowsnest Pass.

Nov. 2, 2022

Lion’s share of fun

Ames and Miles were spotted enjoying Spooky Town and the great weather Saturday at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek.

Weston Whitfield loads recycling into truck

Pincher Creek recycling services set to change June 30

https://shootinthebreeze.ca/crowsnest-pass-council-approves-business-licence-payment-plan/Most of us are familiar with the three Rs associated with limiting our waste: reduce, reuse and recycle.

As it turns out, there’s a fourth R: renew the recycling licence.

During the Feb. 22 regular council meeting for the Town of Pincher Creek, Coun. Scott Korbett formally announced the town would not be renewing its recycling contract with KJ Cameron Service Industries. Come June 30, only empty beverage containers will be accepted at the bottle depot.

“The Town of Pincher Creek intends to continue to offer a recycling program,” the town’s official statement reads. “We are currently working with our regional partners to have a smooth transition to a new program by the end of June.”

While understanding the town is obligated to make economic decisions when it comes to contracts, Weston Whitfield, owner and manager of KJ Cameron, worries consolidating services on a regional basis might result in an inefficient service to taxpayers.

 

Huge, loaded burger and onion rings on Bear Grass Bistro ad.

The process of gathering, transporting, then re-sorting material, Mr. Whitfield adds, might decrease the price recycling facilities are willing to pay.

“My concern is in the past, places that have done collaborations like that end up with a little bit of contamination and it can affect the resale of the product,” he says.

Although no official details have been released, the plan for future recycling appears to involve the Crowsnest/Pincher Creek Landfill Association.

Discussion recorded in the minutes of the Jan. 20, 2021, regular meeting of the landfill association includes “Recycling Update” as an agenda item.

The minutes describe proposals being sent to each of the municipalities and note that, despite no reply being received, each of the municipal representatives — Coun. Dean Ward from Crowsnest Pass, Coun. Brian McGillivray from Pincher Creek and Reeve Brian Hammond from the MD of Pincher Creek — indicated their respective councils are still considering or interested in the landfill’s recycling proposal.

 

Red and black angus bulls on poster for Blades Angus Bull Sale

Recycling was also a topic during last week’s council meetings for both the MD of Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass.

During the MD of Pincher Creek’s Feb. 23 council meeting, chief administrative officer Troy MacCulloch updated council on plans to move collection bins from outside the MD office to a site off Bighorn Avenue and Highway 507, near the Co-op lumberyard.

The site will cover recycling needs for residents from both the MD and town.

“This will be a site that the MD will build,” said CAO MacCulloch. “We will cost-share it with the town, and then going forward it would be operated and manned by the Crowsnest/Pincher Creek Landfill.”

Plans for the new recycling site are still tentative as the MD is working with the current landowner to develop a lease that would permit the property to be used as a transfer station for garbage and recyclables.

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

The garbage bins by the MD office, he added, could also be removed. This will allow for further development and easier access of the standpipe, which will remain at the location.

Meetings with Pincher Creek administration have discussed the possibility of the MD taking over the composting facility, which would be included on the site.

Crowsnest Pass council also voted Feb. 23 to direct administration to find a location for their own recycling bin.

Ease of access, along with being sheltered from the weather and from travellers’ field of vision, were identified as main priorities.

Administration was asked to present a location at the March 16 council meeting with hopes that users could begin dropping off recycling by the end of the month.

The goal is to eventually have three sites in the municipality to gather recycling. Beginning with one, said CAO Patrick Thomas, was a good place to “at least start and see what the challenges are,” especially to “see how [building] the fencing and screening goes.”

The Town of Pincher Creek’s full official statement regarding the recycling licence can be found online at http://bit.ly/PC-Recycle. More information on Pincher Creek Bottle Depot and Recycling can be found at www.facebook.com/pcbottledepot.

 

Woman flipping business sign to open

Crowsnest Pass council approves business licence payment plan

Licence to Kill, the 16th James Bond film produced, was initially titled Licence Revoked. Producers decided to change the title after test audiences in the United States thought the title referred to having driving privileges removed.

As a result of government-mandated shutdowns, businesses across the province likely felt their own business licences were revoked as many were forced to temporarily close.

Crowsnest Pass council considered altering the cost of renewing business licences during its Feb. 23 regular council meeting after a local business owner submitted a letter requesting fees for the 2021 business licence be reconsidered.

General, resident business licences cost $125. General non-resident licences are $360. The municipality typically collects about $68,000 each year.

 

Shelves of bottled liquor in an ad for Town & Country Liquor Store in Pincher Creek

With establishments like hair salons, barbershops and restaurants being unable to operate for the full term their 2020 licence permitted, Mayor Blair Painter said adjusting expectations for 2021 was not unreasonable.

“There’s already a big enough hardship on them,” he said.

While acknowledging some municipalities in the province have outrightly waived licence fees for small businesses, council was unsure how it would best determine if a business actually needed support.

“I would have no problem with the approach if a business could show a certain amount of loss,” said Coun. Dean Ward, “but I know several businesses that had their best year ever and collected $60,000 from the federal government, 20 of which they don’t have to pay back. I don’t want to see us get into that kind of situation.”

 

Indoor and outdoor view of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

With over 75 per cent of businesses having already purchased their 2021 licences, Coun. Sygutek added, waiving fees for the whole community just wasn’t feasible and probably wouldn’t make much of a difference.

“If 125 is going to make or break your business, then you got problems from Day 1,” she said. “Reimbursing 300 business licences would also be a tremendous amount of work.”

Rather than forgiving fees, Coun. Sygutek continued, council could simply forego charging interest on late payments until the summer.

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

Chief administrative officer Patrick Thomas suggested a route similar to overdue taxes could also be an option.

“If someone requires or needs it for this year, we look at a payment plan [for licence fees] instead,” he said.

“We do that with taxes, utilities — when someone gets behind you set up a payment plan so someone else can identify that they’re at least paying towards it and they’re not just ignoring it,” CAO Thomas continued. “If they are just going to ignore it, they’ll fall under the normal processes that we’ll try to pursue to deal with it.”

Council accepted the suggestion and approved creating an option for businesses to utilize a payment plan for their 2021 licence fees.

The next regular council meeting will be held Tuesday, March 9, at 7 p.m. at the MDM Community Centre in Bellevue. Agenda packages are available online at https://bit.ly/CNPagenda.

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.