As the race to secure the good will of the electorate tightens in the lead-up to Monday’s vote, last Wednesday a sizable crowd questioned both candidates about the front-running issues during Taber’s municipal election forum held at the Heritage Inn.
The recent decision by council to divest the town’s ambulance service in favour of administration and control by Alberta Health Services (AHS), as well as the ongoing question of emergency dispatching, was fielded by both candidates.
“We spent a great deal of time working through this ambulance situation,” said Mayor Ray Bryant. “We were told at the beginning no deficit. At the time, the town was incurring a deficit, so we made the decision to disband. In terms of dispatch we had no choice, it’s unfortunate. We had no control over that, and we have huge concerns, and others across the south have huge concerns about ambulance and dispatch, and it’s falling on deaf ears.”
Challenger Henk DeVlieger promised to hold AHS accountable for their ambulance and dispatch decisions and the quality of their services.
“I don’t know all of the exact details of how it was before, but I know it was promised that it would be the same or better. I think if I were on council, we would hold Alberta Health accountable, and keep pressing to at least get the same or better service than we had. I’ve been approached by a lot of people around town that have the same concerns. I think it’s a very important issue that we have to keep Alberta Health accountable for.”
DeVlieger would also like to see changes to the town’s approach to planning and development, and to make Taber a more friendly place for business to locate and operate.
“I think first of all our development department can improve, and certainly do a better job at promoting the town not just in the province, but outside the province, and make our town more inviting as far as being more helpful if businesses inquire. I think that’s an important improvement. I think we need to look at quite a few different angles to promote our town and encourage business to relocate here. A lot of improvements could be made, and I would work on that as one of my first priorities.”
Bryant was first to tackle the inevitable question about the deteriorating state of many of Taber’s roads and paved surfaces.
“A considerable amount of money has been spent in the downtown area with regards to bulb-outs, and the skin patching. I believe that most of the downtown area has been completed. We now need to focus on the industrial area. I believe that has been neglected, we have roads that have not been paved. We need spend some time and some monies in the industrial end. We have talked about the cemetery road. It was disastrous, we’ve improved it. It’s a priority for council to get that road done.”
DeVlieger viewed the problem as one of infrastructure priorities in the community moving into the future.
“If I were to be elected, one of my first things would be to prioritize our infrastructure, and for sure the roads, because we’re all driving over them every day. It’s a big priority, but we also have to realize though we can pave the roads and fix them up, but we have to make sure that what’s underneath gets fixed first, because it would be a shame to take the same road out again two years later. I think we’re kind of behind, and our infrastructure needs a lot of work here, but it really has to be prioritized.”
Issues surrounding neglect to a municipally-controlled park in the community’s northwest brokered a promise from Bryant indicating the problems would be rectified in the near future.
“This is the park up in the old rodeo grounds, and it’s my understanding that we have made a commitment that bottom of the park will be completed. We have money set aside in the budget for this year. We have met on site to determine what needs to be done, and when would be the best time to have it completed. That has been done, there is a commitment, money in the budget, and it will be completed as soon as we possibly can.”
Fielding a question that has arisen in the past, Bryant pointed out it is not legally possible to force town employees to reside within the boundaries of the municipality.
“It’s virtually impossible unless an individual is providing an emergency service, such as police or fire. By human rights now, it is virtually impossible to demand that someone live in your community. My belief is that if you work in the community, you live in the community. That’s my belief, and I will stand and support that at any time. We always encourage our people to live within the community.”
DeVlieger agreed with Bryant’s assessment, but encouraged town employees to reside in the community as a means of representing themselves more effectively on a professional basis.
“As a councillor, you have to live in Taber, that is by law. I think if you have a management position, it’s preferable you live in Taber, just to get a better feel for what Taber is all about. To come here from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and then leave, I think it’s hard to get a good feel for Taber and do your job professionally. I think it’s almost a must that you live in Taber, or in the surrounding area.”
Lighting of the town’s walking paths is not currently a budget consideration moving into the future.
“At this point in time, we do not have any budget to put power so that the trail can be lit up 24/7,” said Bryant. “As much as we would like to, right now, we’re just going with Mother Nature. We enjoy it in spring, summer and fall, and yes, in the winter time it’s not so great, but we just don’t have the funds to move in that direction at this point in time.”