BOWDEN — Fallout from the COVID-19 virus and some very high wastewater costs made 2020 a tough year in Bowden, but mayor Robb Stuart is hopeful 2021 will be better.
During a year-end interview, Stuart said as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the town was forced to close the Igloo Arena early, just before it was scheduled to host a provincial atom hockey tournament in 2020.
Stuart said to his knowledge, Bowden weathered the COVID-19 pandemic pretty well.
He noted the town did not institute a local state of emergency “like a lot of towns did.”
Stuart said councillors talked about instituting a local mandatory mask bylaw but the province-wide requirement took care of that.
He was relieved they didn’t do so, because there were concerns.
“Any bylaw is only as good as the enforcement of it and it’s really hard to enforce it. And we don’t have anybody in town," Stuart said. “Like, Olds has their peace officers and even the RCMP.”
The pandemic prevented council from having public hearings. Stuart is hopeful a way will be found around that because council was able to conduct council meetings via Zoom when necessary.
“Zoom meetings seem to work. I still like the camaradarie – like, visiting with people. But we’ll wait and see what shakes out,” he said.
On the bright side, the town saved money on meeting and convention costs because they were cancelled.
Stuart noted that as a result of the pandemic, the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities June convention was cancelled, as was an Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference scheduled to be held April 30-May 1.
“So all the money that councillors and myself spend on attending those functions, like the $200 a night hotel rooms, they didn’t get spent,” Stuart said.
He said one of the big frustrations for the town in 2020 was that their wastewater consumption costs skyrocketed, thanks to lots of rain and a high water table.
“Usually we pay about $20,000 a month or $30,000 a month. We were up at $80,000 a month there in April and May,” he said.
The town is working with ISL Engineering in an attempt to cut water and wastewater costs, he said.
Soaring wastewater costs were also frustrating because they came just after the town had managed to costs by reducing the inflow of water into the sewer system, he said.
Stuart listed the opening of the A &W restaurant and Chevron gas station in the old rest stop property as a highlight last year.
And he looks forward to anticipated construction of a Tim Hortons and Shell gas station development in the area this year as well.
He listed the new welcome to Bowden signs installed during the year as another highlight.
A 24-niche $10,000 granite columbarium, constructed in Vermillion Bay, Ont. was also installed in the cemetery last fall.
“We’ve been talking about it for about five years. But once it actually got in, it went fairly quickly,” he said.
The columbarium, an idea of the Bowden and District Cemetery Association, is located in the old section of the cemetery, close to the middle of the property.
“We expect the unit to be filled in five years and we have had some interest but no sales at this point," chief administrative officer Greg Skotheim wrote in an email. “Once this unit is filled we will look at a second unit.”
As the new year goes on, Stuart anticipates town councillors will continue a project they started last year, to update various bylaws including their land use bylaw.
“Just rezoning and a little bit of allowing, maybe, home businesses to advertise,” Stuart said.
A new website has been created for the town. Stuart says likely by the end of January, people will be able to download an app for it to their phones.