ATHABASCA — He had to think about it for a while, but now that he’s made up his mind he’s running for mayor.
Rob Balay is officially on the municipal election ballot Oct. 18, vying for council's top spot and feels his many years of experience as both a town employee and an active community volunteer have prepared him for the role.
“I've always been a firm believer that you should serve a term on council before you step into a leadership role such as running for mayor,” he said in a Sept. 3 interview. “And I feel that after serving the past four years on town council, that I'm now ready to take on that role and I look forward to the opportunity to do that, if given the chance.”
Balay worked for 34 years in the municipal sector starting in administration then running the Athabasca Regional Multiplex as well as serving on several community boards and the Board of Governors for Athabasca University.
“I look forward to people bringing their concerns to me; I'm not the kind of person that's going to run away from that, and I'll do my best to make our town the kind of place we all want to live in,” he said, adding he excited now that he’s made the decision to run for mayor.
Balay has some pressing issues he wants to deal with he sees as having long term impacts on the viability of the town.
“There are some immediate things that I think need to be addressed and first and foremost is probably the economic sustainability issue,” he said. “I think we must do everything possible to keep Athabasca University jobs tied to our community. I think this is essential for our long-term sustainability.”
Beyond the university is the issue of doctors. The Boyle Healthcare Centre has been experiencing occasional closures of its emergency department, sending even more patients to Athabasca, which has two or more doctors ready to retire and some who have recently left and have yet to be replaced.
“That's another one of the immediate issues that are directly affecting not only our community, but a lot of northern communities as far as the attraction of health professionals,” said Balay. "Hopefully we'll work with our regional partners and come up with ways to achieve this and the formation of an attraction and retainment committee is the beginning of that.”
And while the search is on for more medical staff, COVID restrictions have come into play again and the longer the pandemic drags on, the more restrictions the provincial government has to implement.
“We don't want to cut services, we don't want to raise taxes, but reality is reality,” he said. "One of the things I think were hit the hardest were our recreational facilities and the impact that has. What are we going to do if this continues where the usage of those facilities is so much less than what it was 18 months ago, and how do we deal with that?”
He says the next council will have to find creative ways to not cut services or raise taxes, but there are no guarantees and he wants to be honest about the situation.
"I can't make a promise that that won't happen,” Balay said. “I mean, I'm fiscally responsible and we will make the tough decisions if we have to make them, but hopefully we'll find ways that we don't have to do that.”