WESTLOCK - Westlock County council is taking its time in adopting a new strategic plan to set the future direction of the municipality and will give the public some time to see if their priorities align.
Councillors has been discussing updating the county’s strategic plan for several months and attended a two-day workshop in October to help prepare. When the plan was brought to council in November, councillors decided it needed some more refining.
Council took another look at the document at its latest Dec. 17 meeting and decided they would put it to the public before accepting it.
The strategic plan is meant to cover the time between 2019-2024.
The first item on top of council’s list is fiscal responsibility and reality followed by maintaining and improving the transportation system. The third priority is investing in residents’ quality of life and improving external communications.
The document takes note of the county’s limited non-residential assessment base, and its inability to attract commercial and industrial development because of high tax rates. This leads to a reliance on residential taxes and grant funding.
To offset that, the county will, “undertake a structured review of service levels for all programs and services. This process will consider the value ratepayers receive for taxes paid; analysis of alternative and innovative ways of delivering services; and seeking out the very limited alternatives of new sources of revenue to take the pressure off existing taxpayers.”
As for priority No. 2, the document pointed out work on the county’s 2,300-kilometre transportation system accounts for 40 per cent of the operating budget and includes construction, maintenance, gravelling, snow removal, dust control, flood control, bridge maintenance and replacement, ditch maintenance and signage.
With this in mind this priority will take into account “the recommendations of the 2018 road study and establish an evidence-based transportation network management program within our means.”
The county will “focus our investments on the priority upgrades identified in the road study; utilize available funding to finance projected maintenance costs for the next decade; consider identified alternative road maintenance methods for gravel and paved roads; and provide education and enforcement to the transportation industry for the protection of our transportation network.”
The third priority of the strategic plan is to help make sure residents of Westlock County enjoy the benefits of physical, mental, emotional and social health.
“The county is committed to continuing its support of agriculture and maintaining its rural character, but recognizes that it may need to provide a broader range of municipal services to attract and retain families, encourage economic development, promote vibrant communities and preserve its natural environment.
“Westlock County is investing in recreation; emergency response and enforcement services; water, wastewater and solid waste management services; FCSS programs; and community development” to make a better quality of life for everyone.
The final priority involves improving communications practices. To make this happen council will review the county’s public engagement policy; address new ways of communicating with younger residents; issuing a regular Westlock County newsletter that will include council meeting briefing reports; implementing Facebook as a communications tool.
Part of that effort will include putting the strategic plan out for the public to see, before it comes back to councillors for a final time and a vote is taken at their Feb. 11 meeting.
“With a document like this I think it’s extremely important that we put it out to the public for 30 days, or more, for public comment” said Coun. Dennis Primeau.
Deputy reeve Brian Coleman said he had no problem with that.
“The purpose of going to the public on this is because this is a high-level document. We want to know if these are the right priorities and if they agree with these priorities. If there is a lot of response that these aren’t the right priorities, then we’d better re-look at our strategic plan,” he said.