The field of eight candidates vying for six positions on Taber’s town council on Oct. 21 were challenged by citizens on a variety of issues including infrastructure, recreation, recycling, law enforcement and downtown revitalization.
All candidates were in attendance at the forum with the exception of incumbent Randy Sparks, who was unable to attend due to other commitments, but provided a written statement which was read during the introductory portion of the forum.
Several candidates touched on the problem of law enforcement, focusing on issues surrounding the overwhelming cost of providing effective service for small municipalities such as Taber, and needed solutions for pressing fiscal concerns in this area.
“We need to lobby the justice minister for more money,” said incumbent Coun. Rick Popadynetz. “Right now there’s a line in the sand for population. Basically, our population isn’t large enough to get provincial funding, and it isn’t small enough to get provincial funding. We’re in the middle. We really need to talk to the justice minister on this, and not only that, maybe we can find different revenue streams. I’m not a big fan of photo radar, that’s not a very good revenue stream as far as I’m concerned.”
Former police officer Andrew Prokop offered his support for continued levels of service provided by the Taber Police Service, despite escalating costs involved for the municipality in maintaining or enhancing that service.
“Obviously with my background, I’m a huge supporter of the Taber Police Service, and it should only improve in my mind. I don’t think anyone can convince me otherwise. I would hope there’s no issue with funding, and I understand there’s always difficulty with government grants, but it’s just a matter of prioritizing what’s available and where the need is. On photo radar, I’m not so keen on that idea either, and I’d like to see that revisited.”
Incumbent Coun. John Papp pushed for the more active involvement of citizens and parents in taking ownership of their community rather than a law enforcement alternative in dealing with issues such as littering.
“We’ve got garbage bins out there, but sometimes we have to look at it and say does the education have to start at home as much as it does on the street? Do the people that do this on the street do the same thing at home? I don’t believe so. I think the education has to come from home, and I think our parents of all children need to make them effectively aware of what they are doing, and that it’s not appropriate for the community, and it is costing extra dollars for other people to undertake the care and clean-up.”
Funding and administration of emergency services are key issues, according to candidate Laura Ross-Giroux.
“As you know, we have a problem with funding nowadays.”
The province is moving towards more collaborative funding, and as a result we are losing autonomy over our own fire department. Council certainly needs to be more engaged with what’s happening. We cannot afford to lose any lives or lose any buildings because we do not have adequate fire prevention. I think we need to have more involvement with the emergency services committee.”
Several candidates fielded questions about the state of Taber’s downtown business district, and what can be done to try to revitalize the area and attract new businesses to the community in the future.
“Currently, the cenotaph is going to be renovated, the Legion is raising funds for that,” said Coun. Popadynetz. “We’re also working for the Centre Court for the Arts, on renovating that building, the 100 year old courthouse. I’ve noticed in the past year, there’s only three businesses that are empty in the downtown, from I believe nine at this time last year. There’s been some major improvements on downtown revitalization. With growth, comes people, comes businesses to the downtown. Being available for growth will help a lot for our business revitalization downtown.”
Incumbent Coun. Garth Bekkering viewed the issue more simply.
“Downtown revitalization has been an issue for many, many years. It’s just more visible because of the empty buildings. The only way to really revitalize anything, besides putting up trees like we have, and the efforts we’re making with the cenotaph and the Centre Court for the Arts, the only way to revitalize a downtown is to get the people who live in town to shop in this community.”
Challenger Ross-Giroux pointed out that any plan to move forward on downtown revitalization must include the stakeholders and business owners and operators to be an effective solution for future development.
“I agree we need to complete the Centre Court for the Arts, but I don’t think we need to stop there. I think we also need to look at stakeholders downtown, I know several times they’ve tried to get a committee put together to help revitalize the downtown, and I think that’s something we need to concentrate on. It’s nice to have paved sidewalks and trees, but I think we need to encourage more shopping down there also.”
The province’s centralization of ambulance dispatching following the recent divesting process of the town’s ambulance service became a hot-button topic at the forum.
“We met with Alberta Health Services several times,” said Coun. Bekkering. “They told us that the service was going to be at least as good or better than before. I think it’s been proven in the last number of months that’s not the fact, and I’m very concerned about the dispatch side. The dispatch which is now controlled out of where ever, is going to be a complete disaster.”
Prokop suggested returning the ambulance service to the control of the town should be a priority.
“I’m not completely up on what exactly took place, or why, but I would certainly be in favour of the way it was. It worked well then, I don’t know why it couldn’t work well going forward. I don’t know how much political red tape there would be to go through to get it back, but I think we should be pushing to do so.”
Differing strategies for trying to promote business development and attract new business to the community were discussed by candidates.
“Being a business man in town, I know exactly,” said candidate Joe “Luigi” Strojwas. “The problem is we need to put out there that Taber is open for business, and we need to do whatever it takes to bring new business into town. We need to be proactive and not reactive. In most cases, we are not open to new business in this community.”
Candidate Jack Brewin viewed the issue as one of maintaining an attractive business environment for core industries within the community and its surrounding economic hinterland.
“I think a big problem can be traced back to our industrial area. It’s emptying, and businesses are leaving the town and going out to the M.D. of Taber. When they leave, the people that worked there are no longer in town. If we built that stronger, I think our downtown core would benefit from that, because they’re here to shop.”
Ross-Giroux viewed the issue from a purely marketing perspective.
“I look at it from a marketing point of view. If something doesn’t sell, then you make it sell-able. If we have to lower the price on our lots then so be it, we’ll take some short-term pain for long-term gain. I’ve also heard complaints that developing here in Taber is rather hard, there’s a lot of hoops that people need to jump through. Perhaps we need to re-examine our development policies and maybe streamline them a bit more, to make them more business-friendly and encourage more business to stay here.”
Issues surrounding neglect to a municipally-controlled park in the community’s northwest brokered a promise from Coun. Bekkering indicating the problems would be rectified in the near future.
“The budget was passed, it was decided to re-sod the bottom of that stormwater pond. I’m sorry to hear that no one from administration has gotten back to you on that, but it’s going to happen. It’s unfortunate what happened, because I think it could have been prevented, but nevertheless we’ve got to deal with the situation, but it will be re-sodded.”
Ambushed by agitators in the crowd over a perceived lack of green waste bins in various town alleys, Coun. Rick Popadynetz did acknowledge a shared interest in seeing this option available for all citizens in the future, as well as touching briefly on the town’s consideration of a roll-out waste bin system as a possible option in the future for recycling and related concerns.
“I’m on the Taber and District Waste Authority. We are moving forward with our waste. We’ve done a study, a very large study. I’m not in favour of smaller bins, I’d rather see less bins in our alleys, and green bins. When I say we need innovative solutions, the Southern Alberta Waste to Energy Alliance, a 72-member board, is looking to build a facility to house and produce energy from this waste. We are moving forward with that.”