BARRHEAD - The County of Barrhead is one step closer to getting its own community police officer.
During their May 17 meeting, councillors directed administration staff to work with the RCMP to finalize its traffic safety plan and submit it to the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General.
County manager Debbie Oyarzun said creating the plan is part of the process of becoming an authorized employer under the peace officer program, which is needed if the municipality is to hire a community peace officer (CPO).
More specifically, she said the traffic safety plan is necessary if the municipality wants its CPO to have the ability to enforce moving violations under the Traffic Safety Act.
The plan must be approved by the RCMP before its submission to the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General "as they have the data and experience to provide input and direction on this," she said.
The county hopes to have the CPO in place by July.
Since 2009, the county has contracted out its bylaw enforcement service, the majority of that time with Lac Ste Anne County, which provided 80 hours of service monthly. They have also been provided the service through the Town of Barrhead, Westlock County, the Town of Mayerthorpe and more recently, the Town of Morinville.
However, because of the increasing cost of the contract in September 2021, councillors instructed administration staff to investigate the potential of taking over the service by creating an in-house bylaw enforcement department and hiring a CPO.
When the municipality first contracted Lac Ste. Anne, the county charged them $60 per hour to provide 80 hours of CPO service.
But by 2021, that rate had increased to $88.50 per hour, and starting in 2023, the rate would have jumped to $105 per hour.
As an interim measure between the expiring contract with Lac Ste Anne County and the start of its own service, the municipality has contracted the service to Morinville.
Oyarzun noted that she originally started drafting the document with the aid of Barrhead RCMP Detachment commander Sgt. Dodds, but then elicited the help of Westlock Traffic Services Sgt. Lee Drinkwater and the head of the Morinville Bylaw Services Unit Sgt. William Norton.
"The intent of the plan is to bring awareness to areas of concerns the county may have and it will effectively direct our enforcement activities, whether that is through education and awareness, engineering services (such as signage or installation of speed bumps)," she said, adding she used the "safer systems approach" as a guide.
"The approach is about can we do to make drivers, vehicles and roadways safer, which I thought was quite applicable to rural Alberta," Oyarzun said.
Due to the vast territory the CPO is responsible for, noting the county has roughly 1,466 kilometres of local roads, not including three hamlets' internal roads, she said that enforcement by default will have to be mostly complaint-based.
She also noted that the new CPO jurisdiction would not include two numbered highways, which is the RCMP's jurisdiction and that initially, the plan will focus on moving violations, but future drafts will include non-moving violations such as seatbelts, tinted windows, and lack of insurance.
The draft traffic plan identifies eight areas of concern including traffic collisions; school zones (speeding in school zones, illegal passing of school buses and confusion over school zone times); speeding in marked, unmarked and construction zones; parking, specifically illegal parking in subdivisions and hamlets; oversized or slow-moving equipment, i.e. the failure to meet regulations for safe travel; traffic sign vandalism and theft; unsecured loads, littering and illegal dumping; and improper snow clearing from private access roads and driveways.
The latter is an issue specifically included in the plan due to concerns from public works staff.
Coun. Bill Lane said speeding and illegal parking are especially problematic in the Hamlet of Thunder Lake, suggesting the installation of temporary speed bumps to curb speeding and enforcing parking bans, especially that of large gravel trucks.
"You don't want them on new pavement," he said, referring to the overlay project on hamlet roads slated to begin this summer.
Oyarzun then went through the areas of concern and discussed how the traffic plan would address them through a combination, of engineering, education or enforcement and afterwards to review applicable data to see if the approach was effective.
While drafting the plan, Oyarzun also asked the RCMP how they should address council's concerns regarding people illegally driving through ditches and private property to access the Pembina River, specifically at the Pembina River Bridge about 10 minutes south on Highway 33.
"We've talked to Alberta Transportation about it, and we've done some costing about potential alternative scenarios," she said, adding the RCMP have suggested that they include such specific concerns in the plan but rather create separate short-term operational plans to address those issues.
Coun. Walter Preugschas interjected that the plan identifies specific areas such as school zones, subdivisions, and hamlets and asked if they should add the upcoming Hutterite colony because there will be a concentrated population base in a relatively small area.
The colony, which will be adjacent to Township Road 594 near Highway 777, will have about 70 residents and potentially higher traffic volumes.
Oyarzun suggested they "flag" the issue for a later version of the plan, as it would take three to five years until the colony got to that stage.
Coun. Ron Kleinfeldt asked if they had a vehicle ready if and when the municipality is allowed to hire a CPO.
Oyarzun said not yet but noted that she had "specced it out" and would be ordering it soon.
Barry Kerton, TownandCountryToday.com