ATHABASCA — There will be three names to choose from on the Oct. 18 ballot in the race to represent the residents of the Grassland area in Athabasca County's Division 7
Incumbent Travais Johnson has been joined by Kelly Chamzuk and Donnie Kravontka and while some would think that could lead to hard feelings, each candidate said they have respect for the other and the two challengers said their interest is not a reflection on Johnson’s tenure.
“I phoned (Travais) and I talked to him. I've known Travais for, we figure, about 17-18 years and it's about challenging myself,” Chamzuk said Sept. 15. “I think he does a great job; not saying that I can do better, but I'm willing to try and I know that I can do a good job."
Chamzuk lives on the family farm that has been in operation for 100 years and has been a longtime volunteer with 4-H, the Grassland School Parent Advisory Council, she sits on the Grassland Ag Society board and more.
“I'm passionate about our local communities in the area,” she said. “I love being a part of this community, and actively sit on various boards and committees. I've also advocated for my community to ensure things like services are not lost.”
Really, she said, it is about being a part of something larger than yourself that is driving her.
“I want to be able to give back. We have future generations coming up and I want to make sure that there's thorough planning for careers and having tourism and economic development in our areas for children wanting to stay after graduation.”
Her focus is on both moving forward and maintaining what is already here.
“I want to make sure that we don't see some of our amenities lost due to cutbacks,” she said. “I'd like to see opportunities of Athabasca County to be showcased working with the TED (Tourism and Economic Development) committee and other levels of government to be able to provide possibilities and opportunities for the future.”
And she wants to avoid raising taxes, and leverage growth to the area to stimulate the economy.
“I went to a seminar years ago, ‘13 Ways to Kill Your Community,’ and one line really stuck out, ‘every dollar spent goes around seven times,’” said Chamzuk. “Other than that, I know it's going to be a challenge. I know I'm able to do it, and I'm able to dedicate myself to the next four years.”
If chosen, Johnson will be in his second term having quit the fire department after 25 years with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but still wanting to serve his community.
“Being out on the highway and stuff ... it all came to the surface so I kind of had to quit the fire department so I decided, well, maybe there’s another way I can serve so I figured I’d run for council,” he said Sept. 15.
He would like to see a few changes made like regionalizing the budget, being more efficient in making decisions and streamlining work.
“We talk regional budgeting for roads, but we don't really stick to it," said Johnson. “I suggested this before, is get away from regional budgeting for roads and just throw all the money in one pot and use engineers to decide which roads need to be done, which can be more fair.”
It’s not just roads, but the hundreds of bridges offloaded by the provincial government, increased downloading like the money municipalities are being forced to pay for policing, and more.
“That goes right back to our taxpayers – having industry in our area with Al-Pac, Athabasca University – and if we can attract more industry it takes the burden off of the average household for taxes,” he said. "That corporate tax goes a long way. That being said, there's always going to be a little bit of an increase to stay ahead of it.”
Johnson would like another term to continue working on some goals, like regional budgeting, but also to bring some recent history to the new group.
“When you change councils, some of this stuff shouldn’t change,” he said. “There might be new faces, new ideas and there’s always a learning curve but some things don’t change.”
As for economic development, Johnson would like to see the county tap into a growing industry – ATV recreation.
“It's a growing multimillion-dollar sport, and nobody is taking time put any money to capitalize on it with designated trails, riding areas,” Johnson said. “Using a trail along the river from Athabasca to Fort McMurray would be awesome. It’d be a rush of destination vacations. People can go up there hiking, biking, and all the way to McMurray and stop along the way by the river; it’s beautiful country.”
Donnie Kravontka also loves the beautiful country but wishes it could be cleaned up more.
“I'd like to see the Hamlet of Grassland cleaned up, starting with the grass cutting and some maybe some beautification programs to get everybody on board,” he said Oct. 1. “There's some great businesses here now that have done a great job making the first impression their first priority.”
He would also like to see more business in the area, which is why he’s on the local economic development committee.
“I've been on almost every committee in town here over the last 30 years, whether it be the school or the ag society,” said Kravontka.
He’s also been on the Grassland Fire Department for about 25 years and believes the Grassland School is something everyone in town can rally behind and relate to.
“The school is the heart of the community. I still help out with the school or rink, wherever I can,” he said.
Kravontka knows how much industry and community members contribute to the community so would like to see Grassland show that pride back with clean streets, maybe some new trees and sod.
“Let's put some trees in, let's put some fresh grass in. I think that this area has lots to offer with Alberta Pacific ... they contribute a lot to this community and then the farmers, they've always stepped up.”
Keeping Athabasca University jobs in Athabasca is also very important to Kravontka.
“Wholeheartedly we have to keep the university and the university people in Athabasca,” he said. “There was a lot of sacrifices made over the last few years from community groups and county and government to have it here. I know there's a lot of folks that work indirectly and directly through the university. I supported fully keeping it here.”
He also wants to keep the RCMP and would prefer the money being requisitioned by the provincial government go to more boots on the ground to fight increasing crime instead of some pot of money no one sees.
“Everybody understands progress costs money,” he said. “And when you really get down to it, they realize that they have a little bit more to accommodate the costs of keeping the RCMP. Once I look at the numbers, I'll know better. I know it's costing us more money.”