By Cole Parkinson
It would be hard to find anyone who didn’t find a new set of challenges throughout the year 2020, and Mayor Andrew Prokop counts himself among those people.
With the vast majority of the year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Prokop reflected on the strange year that provided plenty of hurdles.
“Challenges are an accurate statement and then some. For all of us, as Alberta residents or Canadians, and the greater population of the world, as well. It goes very deep and we’re still dealing with that almost a year into it. It’s been a difficult year, that’s for sure. I think everyone has done their best and dealt with it, as best as they can. The numbers are looking better for the last several weeks in Alberta, so I believe there will be more positives coming and restrictions will lift. That will go a long ways to people’s health and well-being,” said Prokop.
While the pandemic is still ongoing, Prokop gave props to the Taber and area population who adapted, and continue to adapt, during these unideal circumstances.
“I’m extremely proud of our Taber and area residents for their extreme patience, their understanding, perseverance and their attempts to comply in all areas, as required. That speaks to the people in our area. I’m very proud of that fact and the limited issues attached to the restrictions in place,” said Prokop. “There are a lot of things that are hard to understand and don’t seem to be consistent in a lot of ways, but we have been following the Alberta Health Services’ rules and recommendations and Dr. Hinshaw’s requirements and Alberta provincial government’s requests and requirements. I understand and agree there has been so many changes and it’s difficult to keep up. There is some confusion going on, no doubt, but overall Taber and area has done very well at adapting.”
Even with many of the challenges provided by the pandemic, town council was able to put plenty of projects into motion.
One of the biggest announcements came last July when Premier Jason Kenney came to town to finally commit to twinning east of Highway 3 to Burdett.
“It’s very exciting and that is 20 years in the making to get to that commitment level. We’ve got council representation on the Highway 3 Twinning Association and that’s huge. It’s only going to enhance the economic growth and I believe for every $1 spent, $3 comes back, which was the rough estimate of (Bill Chapman, president of the Highway 3 Twinning Association). That speaks volumes in what is involved that way. It’s really a win-win for the southern part of the province and we’re extremely excited that commitment has come to fruition.”
As far as other projects in 2020, Prokop stated the town was incredibly busy.
“We had three main projects we celebrated Sept. 12, 2020. The opening of the William H. Ferguson Emergency Services building, that was a huge event. On the same day we did the Trout Pond campground opening and the Ken McDonald Gerald Beckie-dedicated fourth ball diamond we partnered with the Kinsmen group on that project,’ he continued. “Another big one was the 56 Avenue and Highway 864 extension project. That dealt with the servicing of the Westview Lodge in that area, both north and south sides, and those are now serviced and ready to go. That’s great for future growth of the community. That’s also part of the completion phase for 2021, as they are about 65 per cent finished at this stage. They also have the widening of the intersection out there and the traffic lights.”
Several projects that got started are also still ongoing in 2021.
“The Trout Pond path from the gates to 65 Avenue and 44 Street roughly. That’s a big one that’s still ongoing and carried over for 2021,” he said. “For the Trout Pond, we’re still on stage three of that project and so far they are looking to do the disc golf, nine-hole course, to the south end. We’re going to assist them with and we’ve earmarked $5,000 for that project. That’s another enhancement for the Taber Trout Pond area.”
In partnership with the Municipal District of Taber, and other municipalities, the start of the Horsefly Emergency Spillway is a big project that is estimated to begin this year.
“That is going to start this spring, as well. Town of Taber’s commitment was 10 per cent and that’s based over four years. So, 2020-21 $20,600, $15,200 for 2021-22, $328,000 for 2022-23 and $277,000 for 2023-24 for a total of $592,600.”
Prokop touched on three other exciting projects the town will be working on in 2021.
“At the pool, there is an energy conservation project that deals with heat exchange due to energy. It’s a $550,000 project we received $400,000 in grants. That will be started this spring or summer,” he added. “There’s also a water line replacement on 53 Avenue and 47 and 48 Street and that is a matching grant we received. It’s a $440,000 project and we received $220,000. And there’s also a Co2-injection project at the water plant designed to lower the Ph level.”
Prokop also touched on the raise in permits in regard to residential, industrial and commercial.
“If you look at the residential permits for 2020, there were 68 permits issued for a total of $6,295,844. In 2019, there were 36 permits for a total of $2,850,350 and in 2018 there were 53 permits for a total of $4,335,278, so residentially the figures are more than doubled from 2019 to 2020. That’s a great increase for economic growth,” he stated. “We did well with industrial permits. There was 11 for a total of $2,833,500. In 2019, there was five permits for $776,500 and 2018 was six permits for $66,800 — so quite a difference there, as well. Commercially, for 2020 there was 13 permits issued for $2,138,000. 2019 was eight permits for $780,200 and 2018 was 16 permits for $914,000. So those are some huge numbers and increases, which is a great thing for the entire town of Taber and area.”
While businesses struggled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the town reported 41 new businesses, which was down from 2019’s. Despite the small drop off, the fact new businesses were generated in Taber in 2020 during the pandemic is exciting news for the town.
“In a pandemic year, that’s still great for the community,” added Prokop.
An area of concern, for not only this year, but year’s beyond — is the provincial government’s decision to cut Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding.
With the provincial budget being tabled later this week, the town will have a firm answer as to where their MSI funding will come in at after being provided an estimate earlier.
“MSI funding, for 2020 was $1,710,900. For 2021, we have $1,611,483, so roughly $100,000 less. It’s not too, too bad — but that is some money we rely on. That’s some big dollars attached to that and I don’t know what’s coming in the next few years. And it’s the same for everybody, it’s not just Taber. We’re all affected by it.”
After a change was made at the chief administrative officer (CAO) position for the town earlier this year, Prokop mentioned how great the two acting CAOs — John Orwa and Gary Scherer — have adapted to the new challenge.
“Our two co-CAOs are doing very well. We’re working very well with them. They’ve been really great to work with and they’re taking it all in stride and doing their best to do what is necessary with the extra requirement and commitments with what’s required with that role. We’re in very good hands and I’m not worried about that at all.”
As far as hiring a new CAO, Prokop said no new developments have been made and council is still in the process of finding a full-time replacement.