SUNDRE — The municipality’s outgoing mayor recently reflected on the past term’s success.
Terry Leslie -- who after serving several terms on council over the past few decades decided to retire from municipal politics -- shared some parting thoughts on Monday, Oct. 4 during the final regular meeting before the election.
Despite dealing with some staff retention challenges during the term prior to the last, including working through a period with a temporary acting chief administrative officer, Leslie said the past several years ushered in a level of stability that he largely attributed to the municipality’s top administrator, Linda Nelson.
In the years leading up to the 2017 municipal election, he said the municipality struggled with “a revolving door of staff changing positions, new hires, and people leaving. Over a two-year period, of the 30 staff positions we have, we saw turnover of 36 hirings and leavings.”
But that situation has been turned around since Nelson arrived a little more than four years ago, he said.
“You have hired incredibly competent staff in departments, and you have supported existing staff with their goals of education and improving their skills so they feel more respected and valued,” he said before getting into the business of the meeting’s agenda, which was conducted by teleconference.
Nelson’s leadership, added Leslie, served as a “guiding force” that brought council and municipal staff together to continuously improve service levels for residents and businesses within the financial principle of maintaining tax increases at or below the rate of inflation.
Along the way, administrative staff modernized the municipality’s bylaws, policies and procedures to ensure they are all in line with current legislation, an effort which he described as “a mammoth task that goes unnoticed by the public.”
Additionally, Leslie said the level of communication and transparency to the public from council was higher than he’d ever seen during any of the other six terms he’d previously served as a councillor and mayor.
He also expressed optimism for potential future growth, a perspective he founded on promising progress over the past term.
“In the last four years, developers have invested over $20 million in Sundre.”
Long-term planning through a master servicing study has also established a framework for prioritizing, budgeting and affording infrastructure upgrades over the years to come, he said.
A crowning achievement in developing plans to accommodate future growth is the planned wastewater treatment facility’s upgrade, which through the use of innovative technology will not only improve the quality of treated water but also expand the municipality’s capacity, he said.
Furthermore, a traditional upgrade process for the lagoon would have cost many millions of dollars more than the roughly $11.5-million project that is now underway. And that cost to the municipality was reduced even more courtesy of administration’s role in working to secure provincial government funding to the tune of $7.5 million, he said.
“What that means in real dollars to our residents is that there may be little or no debenture debt borrowing to complete the project.”
Proceeding with a traditional upgrade would have resulted in a projected tax increase of about 12 per cent and left the municipality a less desirable place for developers to invest in, he said.
“You have made Sundre a lighthouse of innovation in Alberta,” he said about Nelson. “There is more interest in investing in Sundre now, than I have seen in the 41 years I have lived here.”
And with the deployment of broadband infrastructure, Sundre will finally be able to compete with major cities in the digital economy — at no cost to taxpayers, he said.
Other achievements such as the completion of the community gazebo at the Greenwood Campground, progress on the educational boardwalk by the Visitor Information Centre, as well as further developing and connecting the local trail network, are all indicative of administration endeavouring to support volunteer efforts, he said, expressing gratitude to the chief administrative officer and her staff.
“I leave knowing the incoming council will be incredibly well served, and most importantly, so will our residents and businesses.”