Caputo nominated for public service legacy award

Tyler Waugh
news@hintonvoice.ca


An almost-20 year veteran of local school boards has been nominated for a legacy award that honours integrity, compasion, mentoring and leadership over the course of a career in public education.

Shirley Caputo has served more than 19 years on the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD), and her nomination  for the Dick Baker Legacy Award outlines the positive characteristics she’s brought to that position and to her many volunteer roles over the past 30 years living in Hinton.

“She values strong relationships in her advocacy of public education. She intentionally develops positive relationships with students, staff, board colleagues and community members.  She is very reliable and a very dependable individual,” reads the nomination.

 Caputo is touted as investing significant time in her schools as a volunteer and as an attendee and participant in school events. She always seeks the best in students — she has conversations with them and encourages them — “try hard and be the best you can be”.  

As part of her volunteering, she responds to teacher and school requests. For example, during the cold weather when recess was moved indoors she provided games for the students to play in the classrooms.  She also works with staff to identify students who need resources.   

The nomination outlines Caputo’s role as a volunteer at the Hinton Food Bank and The Share Shop, and helping low-income families complete their income tax. She also supports high school students getting their income tax completed so that they can get their refunds. 

As a volunteer at Hinton’s Rotary Club, Trustee Caputo supports The Dolly Parton Foundation where the funds raised cover the costs of postage.  These books are mailed monthly to children from the ages of 0 – 5 years old — encouraging early literacy.  

Caputo involves herself with the local Friendship Centre, where she is learning culture of the Indigenous people, was previously the survivor coordinator for the Relay for Life fundraiser for cancer research, and is currently the chair of the Hinton Adult Learning Society where classes for parents cover topics on positive parenting, single father parenting, and other courses to address the learning needs of Hinton’s parents. 

As a Trustee, she has served as vice-chair, and has sat on numerous committees including: CUPE negotiations, board policy, ATA appeals, and bus driver negotiations. 

Caputo received a ‘Volunteer of the Year’ 2019 award from the Rotary Club of Hinton. 

Dick Baker was a dedicated advocate for public education in Alberta, with an unwavering commitment to placing children first and modelling respect for the stewardship of public trust.

YES re-opens doors amid COVID pandemic

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


After dealing with a flood that closed the doors of the Yellowhead Emergency Shelter for Women (YES) since the beginning of March, staff are finally ready to open again on April 7.

A dishwasher was the culprit of the flood that caused nearly $20,000 worth of repairs and inspections of the building.

During the closure, staff did some deep cleaning of the space while the outreach worker continued following up with phone calls to clients and crisis workers provided one-on-one support through the crisis line.

Any clients that needed a space to stay were referred to Whitecourt, Rocky Mountain House, or other community shelters and emergency social services.

“We haven’t been inundated, we haven’t seen a huge increase in the amount of calls yet for people requesting space. We are anticipating that we are getting them,” said Marjorie Luger, executive director of YES, now that they will be open amid a pandemic.

Over the past three weeks the shelter has received three calls requesting space, but Luger expects to be busier as everyone is opting to stay home more and more due to the COVID-19 crisis.

She explained that for those already in a bad situation or an unhealthy relationship, all sorts of new stressors can come up when they are confined in their home for 24 hours a day.

Since being closed all of March, the shelter hasn’t been receiving many referrals from other agencies in Hinton either.

Many agencies in town are currently closed to the public and Luger expects most referrals will come from the police, victim services, and word of mouth.

Before the flood, a number of people were staying at the shelter. YES transferred one client to another shelter and others found their own safe accommodation.

“Our priority when we open up will be people from Hinton, just because… they haven’t said not to travel yet, but they’re recommending that people don’t travel,” Luger said.

YES isn’t able to transport people to the shelter from outside the immediate area and it’s unclear if taxis are able to provide that service, she said.

Staff have implemented all recommendations and requirements by Alberta Health Services (AHS) in order to keep the building properly sanitized and clients safe.

“We don’t have a housekeeper and we don’t have a cook. For people to come and self isolate in a shared kitchen, it’s going to be a challenge,” Luger said.

YES has space for ten people at any one time, but the recommendations are that each family has their own bathroom and YES only has two bathrooms for four bedrooms, Luger added.

“That could mean that our capacity may go down just because of the configuration of the bathroom to bedrooms,” Luger said.

Families won’t be able to intermingle due to the social distancing measures and children won’t be able to play together in the shelter.

Staff has discussed different scenarios and have planned accordingly.

Extra screening will take place prior to intake, which will determine health and travel history.

“We’re going to require everybody who comes in to do the AHS self-assessment,” Luger said.

The shelter managed to get enough toilet paper for clients but they are still working on getting personal protective equipment like masks, she added.

The provincial government stated on their website that $30 million has been committed to adult homeless shelters and women’s emergency shelters to support their COVID-19 response.

Luger explained that YES is not eligible for that funding as it is directed to high need and high capacity shelters.

“There were quite a few shelters in the province that aren’t eligible for that. A little bit of false advertising for the government to say that they were giving women’s shelters that money,” she said.

Luger was aware that the federal government would be announcing funding for women’s shelters as well but doesn’t know if that is also tied to occupancy.

“Because we’re not that busy, we’re only 50 per cent occupied. If they’re looking at just numbers and occupancy, we still have the same needs. In fact, we may have more because our staff is all single shifted, whereas other shelters might have more people but they have two staff for every shift,” Luger explained.

YES currently has eight full time and equivalent staff members, including an outreach and childcare worker.

Normally, YES fundraises about 10 per cent of their budget or $80,000 per year, but this year Luger is worried about how much they will be able to raise.

“I don’t know where that’s going to go in the next year depending on how long this lasts and how our economy rebounds,” she said. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”

The spaghetti dinner in March is their main fundraiser every year, and they receive unsolicited funds from third party fundraisers.

YES is also part of the National Garage Sale for Shelters and the 50/50 raffle for the West Central AB Classics Car Club show in the summer, which could both face cancellations.

“Depending on the economy next year, when March rolls around and our spaghetti dinner. It’s hard to say if businesses are able to donate for silent auction items and things like that,” she said.

Hinton Parent Link closes after loss of funding

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


All Parent Link programming, branding, and provincial funding has ended as of March 31 and Hinton Parent Link will be permanently closed, announced the Town of Hinton on April 3.

The Government of Alberta Ministry of Children’s Services announced on Nov. 4, 2019, that provincial funding for Parent Link programs across the province would not be renewed after the end of their current budget year ending on March 31, 2020. 

Hinton prepared a proposal to continue funding its services to support early childhood and family development through the new Family Resource Network (FRN) expression of interest (EOI) process.

The process called for all Parent Link centres and other support services in Alberta to apply to continue receiving funding after March 31. 

Three Parent Link staff were laid off at the end of March as the program was no longer funded by the province, stated Laura Howarth, Hinton director of community services.

Both the Hinton Friendship Centre and the Town of Hinton were included in the province list of successful Expression of Interest proponents for funding in the Family Resource Networks, which was released on April 8.

The Hinton Friendship Centre did not respond to the Hinton Voice by deadline about the funding.

Funding amounts were not identified by the government for each organization nor if they were considered a hub or a spoke, in the new “Hub-and-Spokes” model. 

The “hub is a physical centre and anchor organization that arranges direct and partnered service delivery, while the spokes are the network of services, supports, and programming that offer child development and well-being support, caregiver capacity building support, and social connections and support.

The Hinton Voice did not learn how much funding the Town of Hinton received before publication.

“We always strive to re-examine and balance priorities/demands within our available resources in order to serve Hinton and we will continue to do our best to do so, particularly under the current circumstances,” said Howarth.

Howarth added that all four regional municipalities of Hinton, the Town of Edson, Yellowhead County, and the Municipality of Jasper, as well as several other community organizations across the region submitted applications to provide a variety of services under the Province of Alberta’s new Family Resource Network model.

The province stated on their website that proposals were assessed based on organizational capacity, partnerships and collaboration, service delivery plans, proposed budget and alignment to the Well-Being and Resiliency Framework and the miyo resource.

Some municipalities and groups received confirmation that they were not successful in their application, while other municipalities and groups have been in negotiations with the province, Howarth said.

The province stated in November that between $500,000 to $749,999 of funding would be available for family resource services in Hinton’s proposed network area.

Previous to the new EOI, services by the Town of Hinton alone received approximately $195,000 from grants and contracts each year.

Prior to the funding changes, the provincial government spent about $77.5M annually for Children’s Services Prevention and Early Intervention contracts and grants.

Funding allotted in the new provincial budget to these services is $65M, stated Lauren Armstrong, spokesperson for Alberta’s Minister of Children’s Services in November.

The decision to create a new process was made based on Children’s Services adoption of the Well-Being and Resiliency Framework, which strives to provide a consistent province-wide approach offering universal, targeted, and intensive services.

The adoption of this framework resulted in Children’s Services redesigning its approach to service delivery.

Three weeks of record demand for Food Bank

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


The Hinton Food Bank saw the numbers of clients spike over the past few weeks as volunteers were busy filling a record high number of food hampers. 

Numbers in the middle of March were up 75 per cent compared to the 2019 average and more new clients registered to date in 2020 than all of last year.

On April 7, 200 people were served with 96 food hampers for families.

“I’m expecting the numbers to be similar for a period of time, that’s what we’re forecasting,” said Bernie Kreiner, chairperson of the food bank.

“The first two weeks of March were up to 57 from 50, the last three weeks averaged 87 to 90 orders. That’s a huge jump, and it’s because people are experiencing unemployment.”

He added that some of the clients who work in the service sector are currently out of work with no other place to turn to.

The organization has received a lot of offers for volunteers, but due to a system change, volunteers aren’t in high demand.

Due to Covid-19, only a limited number of volunteers are allowed in the facility at one time. 

Hampers are prepared ahead of time to allow products to be decontaminated over time. 

In-person food hamper pick-up on Tuesdays has also been adjusted to allow one person to register and receive their hamper at a time.

To avoid close contact, the food bank laid out carpets indicating how far clients must stand apart in the case of a line-up outside.

“We apologize to clients for these changes, which prevents using our warm waiting areas, but our facility isn’t designed for this and we are reluctant to move to a service-by-appointment model,” stated an update email from the Hinton Food Bank.

The food bank moved to standardized hampers instead of the pick-by-request hampers on March 17, expediting service and avoiding physical distancing problems for both volunteers and clients. The main challenge faced by the food bank are the quickly depleting shelves over the past few weeks, Kreiner explained.

Alberta Food Banks is busy getting certain product lines and the Hinton Food Bank is also buying products they didn’t have to purchase in the past.

Through Food Banks Alberta and Food Banks Canada, the local food bank began a program of purchasing larger volumes of fresh and packaged foods from wholesalers.

Food donations are again accepted after they were discouraged for the past three weeks due to the food bank learning how to properly handle products that could be contaminated.

“The product donations have dipped but we understand there’s efforts to bring them back up,” Kreiner said.

Challenge in the Rockies usually filled the shelves of the Hinton Food Bank every spring for a couple of months, which was cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

A local restaurant has been cooking and packaging warm meals to be included in the hampers every Tuesday and closing restaurants donated their fresh foods.

Various people in the community have made some very generous financial contributions to the food bank, Kreiner added.

“One particular note, the medical community ran a campaign and gave us $4,500. Here’s the people that are on the front lines of this challenge that themselves cared enough to run a campaign,” Kreiner said.

Kreiner added that they’ve also appreciated the help from the Hinton Friendship Centre Society and the Hinton Employment and Learning Place (HELP) who have delivered hampers to those in self-isolation.

Thirty to 50 per cent of hampers have gone out to clients using their delivery services over the past three weeks.

Clients should contact those organizations if they need the delivery service.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 71 orders in one week was the record high demand at the Hinton Food Bank.

“We surpassed our record in each of the last three weeks,” Kreiner said.

The increase in hampers after March 15 translates to 130 more people receiving food.

Food hamper pick-ups are scheduled between 6:30 pm and 8 pm on Tuesday evenings. 

For more information, reach out to the food bank via their weekly service phone number 780-865-6256, or email hintonfoodbank@gmail.com.

Local organizations urge businesses to reach out for help

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Local businesses are struggling with cash flow as COVID-19 has forced many to shut their doors or alter their business delivery. 

At the same time, fixed costs like rent and utilities remain in place.

“Also, for many retailers this is the start of the spring season so a lot of retailers have new inventory coming in but are unable to operate their business in the usual fashion to sell that inventory,” said Nancy Robbins, executive director for Community Futures West Yellowhead.

The specific impacts vary from business to business, but the Hinton Chamber of Commerce has received a lot of calls to its office from members. Many are worried about the short term and long-term impacts on their viability.

Some businesses deemed non-essential have been forced to close temporarily. Others have remained open but have either closed their storefront and have moved services online, had a drop-off on in-store traffic, or seen a dramatic drop in sales, stated Natalie Charlton of the Hinton Chamber.

“Through our network of Alberta and Canadian Chambers, along with collaboration with various levels of government and other business entities we are able to share our collective knowledge and resources with our members and businesses in the community,” Charlton stated.

The Chamber has been receiving calls and referrals from other community partners. Mailouts from the chamber provide members with up-to-date information and available financial support is shared with local businesses.

A shared document is available on the chamber website with a list of open businesses and their hours/contact info/social media info and how their businesses have been affected by the situation.

“Information is open to the public and businesses are submitting information and this is being updated/changed as we receive the news,” Charlton stated.

Robbins stated that CFWY is available to provide coaching to anyone who has questions about their business during the crisis and are able to ensure that people are getting the resources that they need. 

Staff at CFWY can help navigate the federal programming that is available to businesses and also help businesses explore options while they are closed and when they reopen after the crisis.  

Robbins added that anyone applying for benefits need to make sure both their CRA My Account and their CRA My Business Account are updated and ready for applying to benefit programs.

The CRA has been the best source of information, Robbins said. She also suggested finding a creative way to change a business model as a good way to get some inventory out the door; this could be through changing from sit-down meals to take-out to selling products online or through delivery.

“Ask for help. Both the Chamber and Community Futures are able to assist businesses in questions or concerns that they have and are available to listen,” said Robbins.

“Hang in there and stay healthy.  You will reopen your business and this will be over.  We just need to get there,” Robbins said.

Many of the local accounting firms and banks are also helping businesses with information, Charlton added. Any business can call or email the Chamber for help with any resources that are available.

“If struggling with finances reach out to your accountant/financial lender and see what options are available to you,” Charlton suggested.

Other tips from the Chamber include being flexible in your business strategy and marketing to retain your customers, being active on social media and online so your customers can understand any changes in your business and what you are going through, having an implementation strategy to keep employees and customers safe, keeping up a weekly cash flow plan to deal with ongoing issues that may arise, and preparing for recovery.

“This pandemic will not last forever but the economy might have a different outlook in the coming months so try and do some forward planning,” Charlton stated.

Reach Nancy Robbins at (780) 740-3409 or nrobbins@albertacf.com and the Chamber at (780) 865-2777 or info@hintonchamber.com.

Province defers timber dues for forestry industry

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


In an effort to offer its forestry industry some relief, the Alberta government announced it will defer timber dues for six months.

Alberta announced this decision on April 5 in response to COVID-19 and the economic effects on the forestry industry.

This deferral will help forest companies continue operating and retain staff during this pandemic, according to the government’s press release. Not all companies will choose to use the deferral and those in a position to continue paying timber dues are expected to do so, said Justin Laurence, acting press secretary to the Alberta minister of agriculture and forestry.

The six month opportunity allows those companies experiencing liquidity issues to have some options if needed. Timber dues will continue to be charged accordingly, as per current legislation, although payment can now be deferred for up to six months.

Alberta is one of the first provinces to utilize existing legislation to defer timber dues in response to the extreme near-term pressures the forest sector is experiencing, the government release stated.

“Alberta’s forest sector is our third largest resource industry, behind energy and agriculture. Ensuring the economic viability for our responsible forest companies will help Alberta families and contribute to our economic recovery,” stated Devin Dreeshen, minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Forestry companies currently have self-isolating staff or constraints that require working from home. This support will help many rural economies by providing stable employment in the forest industry, the release added.

The forest industry has been experiencing low markets for lumber, oriented strand board and pulp due to the pandemic.

Another challenge is that producers paid their timber fees for wood that entered the mill this winter based on the price of lumber at that time.

Prices for lumber and panel were pretty decent this winter, stated Brock Mulligan, spokesperson for the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA), a non-profit association representing companies manufacturing lumber, panelboard, pulp and paper, and secondary manufactured wood products in Alberta.

“Subsequently they would have made the product and now the product is getting ready to be shipped out and so the price has significantly dropped since the royalty was paid on a lot of this wood. Producers are going to be in a really tough spot to try and recoup that,” Mulligan explained.

Liquidity is a big issue for producers and the deferral of royalties by the government will allow them to have some extra cash to keep employees on or pay some of their bills, Mulligan added.

Once producers are in a better financial position, they will pay their timber dues.

“The COVID-19 crisis has hit our industry especially hard,” Mulligan stated.

This hit is also due to the crash of the housing market in North America, which has made demand for lumber plummet, he added.

Most of the wood is harvested throughout the winter and companies lay out a lot of money to do that. Now that COVID-19 put a damper on the home building season throughout North America it has been particularly difficult on lumber producers, Mulligan explained.

There are 18,700 people employed in Alberta’s forest sector, which also supports 25,000 additional indirect jobs and 90 communities, according to the provincial government.

Alberta forest product manufacturing contributed almost $2.2 billion to the provincial GDP in 2018. An AFPA  release stated that forest companies pay approximately $125 million annually in timber dues to the province. Additionally, Alberta’s forest companies pay $500 million per year in taxes to federal, provincial, and municipal governments and $1.6 billion in wages and other compensation to employees.

“This is not free money for the forest sector. It is temporary help during a time of crisis. We do expect markets to recover and companies will pay their dues,” said Paul Whittaker, AFPA president and chief executive officer.

Those who produce building products like lumber, plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), and medium density fibreboard (MDF) have experienced rapidly deteriorating markets, according to the AFPA. 

Producers of newsprint and certain grades of pulp are also negatively impacted.

The Doctors Are In

Hinton doctors collaborated to answer questions from The Hinton Voice for a local perspective on COVID-19 and other related health care topics. The answers are provided as general information only.

What would you say to people who are allowing their kids to continue having sleepovers?

Everyone knows it’s hard for kids to be cooped up.  However, it’s critically important to follow the up-to-date recommendations of our provincial and local leaders about physical distancing.  This is not about you or your kids (or your friend’s kids) getting sick – it’s about reducing the chance of the virus spreading to those in Hinton who may die should they contract COVID-19. Do the right thing – be Hinton proud! 

Can pets spread the virus between people who come in contact with it? 

Because COVID-19 is a human-to-human infection, pets are likely not a factor in disease spread.  However, remember that pets have surfaces too!  As a precaution, if you are sick, or isolating because of COVID-19 contact, you should use the same precautions around pets as around people, to reduce the chance of your pet carrying the virus to someone else.  And stay up-to-date on rules regarding use of dog parks and other shared outdoor spaces at alberta.ca/covid19. 

Does wearing masks help avoid spreading or contracting COVID-19?

There isn’t much evidence that wearing a mask, on its own, helps avoid getting infected.  If used improperly, it might even increase infection risk.  However, if you’re sick, wearing a mask reduces the chance of passing COVID-19 to others.

Would you recommend people wearing homemade masks?

Frequent hand-washing, and physical/social distancing, are the most important factors to avoid spreading COVID-19. If you want to wear a mask (like coughing in your sleeve) to reduce your chance of spreading virus to others, please review the important instructions at ahs.ca/covid to avoid increasing your risk.

 Would you recommend people wearing any masks at all?

Do NOT wear medical masks (procedure or N95), as there are dangerous shortages of these worldwide as well as in Canada, and we need to ensure they are available when they’re really needed.  The most important things you can do to reduce spreading the virus are physical distancing, hand-washing, and self-isolating when you’re sick.

Does wearing gloves help avoid spreading or contracting COVID-19?

Like masks, improper use of gloves can increase the chance of spreading COVID-19.  This virus does not infect skin.  Use gloves only for interactions with one person, to avoid transmitting virus person-to-person via the gloves themselves.  It’s important to wash hands before and after wearing gloves.  In fact, washing hands frequently with soap and water is the most effective way to reduce spread.

Tax and utility payments deadline extended

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Town Council extended the deadline for payment of 2020 Property Taxes from June 30, 2020 to Aug. 31, 2020 to provide residents and businesses payment deferral as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Bills will continue to be sent out as scheduled, and residents can choose to defer their payments to a later date, confirmed CAO Emily Olsen during the special council meeting on April 7. 

Additionally, Town utility payments have been deferred for a period of 120 days covering the billings for April, May, June, and July, including the cancellation of any associated penalties.

“The deferral right now only provides relief until that four month period is done,” said Carla Fox, director of corporate services.

“Starting again in September billing will happen. There will be an outstanding amount on your account that would be expected to be paid at that time.”

Coun. JoAnn Race voiced her concern on how this would impact residents when they face their accumulated bills in September. 

“The town typically collects about 90 per cent of all its property taxes between the months of May and September each year, which accounts to just under $18M, of which $13M is for municipal purposes,” stated Peter Vana, director of development services.

Projected implications due to property tax deferments is a shortfall of $103,000 from investment income and penalty income, Vana added.

Vana further explained that between $330,000 to $500,000 worth of revenue is typically collected through utility payments in that timeframe and the town estimates about an $11,000 shortfall by deferring those costs.

The Town has reduced services, including 36 temporary and voluntary layoffs of casual, part-time, and full-time employees, and facility closures.

“Even with these levels of service reductions and closures, we still project an operational shortfall of approximately $306,000,” Vana said. 

The budget that was approved on March 17 included a 3.1 per cent tax rate decrease on property taxes in 2020.

Council approved an amended 2020 Operating Budget of $29,137,747, and a 2020 capital budget of $10,130,302.

The total Operating Budget Increase, including the reserve fund being used from excess taxation money in 2019, is 3.8 per cent.

The additional tax revenue collected in Hinton in 2019 due to increased assessments was placed into a reserve fund in 2019 and brought in as revenue in 2020, which  reduced the total taxation amount required.

An average residential home valued at $365,000 will receive a credit of approximately $62.27 per year, and will be charged approximately $1,978 in Municipal Taxation, with School Taxation and Evergreens Taxation owing in addition to the municipal requisition, stated CAO Emily Olsen, in an email.

Premiere Jason Kenney announced on March 23 that the government froze education property taxes at last year’s level.

This decision saves Alberta households and businesses about $87M in 2020-21, which means $55M for households and $32M for employers, according to a press release from the province.

The release also stated that the government expects municipalities to set education property tax rates as they normally would, but defer collection, to be repaid in future tax years.

Olsen explained that the Town pays for its operating expenditures with fees and charges, grants and donations, franchise fees, rentals, lease revenue, investment income, development levies, federal and provincial contributions, and Yellowhead County’s contribution.

Property assessment increases or decreases also affect how much taxation a resident or business is required to pay, Olsen explained.

“For example, if a resident with a home valued at $365,000 was assessed the same in 2019 as in 2020, the only increase or decrease to municipal property taxes would be through the change in the tax rate being charged,” she said.

Changes by council to the second draft of the budget included  reducing the Economic Development Budget by $30,801 to adjust the Chamber of Commerce Agreement, moving the Gerard Redmond Playground project from 2021 to 2020 in the Capital Budget, reducting the FDM Software one-time project by $100,000, reducing transfers to reserve by $100,000, initiating a service level reduction strategy of $75,000,  removing cost of living increases to non-union staff, reducing in management grid increases by $55,000, adding the Beaver Boardwalk Maintenance costs of $60,000, adding STARS donation of $20,000, and reducing  Council wages by $30,000.

A report on the service level reduction strategy was to be brought forward to council before the end of the second quarter.

Council creates Emergency Response Reserve

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Council approved a temporary emergency response reserve to deal with the financial impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has and will have on the town’s operations.

A total of $240,000 from the recreation expansion reserve was transferred to the temporary emergency response reserve, and any request to access those funds require approval from council.

“Our shortfall to date has been about $192,000. Depending on the length of this pandemic, those costs will only increase over time,” said Peter Vana, director of development services, at the special meeting of council on April 7.

Town administration projects a shortfall of $103,000 due to deferring property taxes, and approximately $11,000 due to deferring utility payments.

After looking at service reductions, facility closures, and staff layoffs, the town still estimates an operational shortfall of approximately $306,000, Vana said. 

Administration initially recommended renaming the recreation expansion reserve to the climatic and emergency response reserve. 

“I’d like to keep some [funds] in that recreation centre reserve, at the same time acknowledging that administration does need some cash flow and will need some cash flow to operate town business,” said Coun. Tyler Waugh.

Vana stated that pandemics historically occur at least every ten years and the province is experiencing wildfires on a yearly basis for which a specific reserve could be beneficial.

Coun. Albert Ostashek first commented that there wasn’t enough background information on how that reserve would be managed and controlled.

A report about the creation of a permanent emergency response reserve will come to council at a future standing committee meeting including funding sources, and reserve management policy. 

Administration stated that no funds had been identified in the budget to cover the shortfalls due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“At this point in time we have no indication that money will be provided provincially or federally to a municipality. We have to move forward ensuring that there is money available. That doesn’t mean we’ll access the money until such time we know at the end of the year that no grant money is provided,” said Carla Fox, director of corporate services.

Vana stated that some kind of reserve is necessary to continue town operations, and suggested creating a separate reserve and moving money into the reserve.

Not having a reserve would have very significant impacts on the town, he continued. 

“What really it amounts to is us moving much much quicker down to purely essential services for the town. That means police, fire, some payroll and that’s about it. Everything else is just temporarily laid off,” he said.

Laying off all staff will impact the recovery process, he added.

Currently operations cannot be reduced enough to offset losses, Fox said.

Coun. Ryan Maguhn asked how residents can look at expenses made in an emergency reserve, to which Fox replied that council could request a report on what has been spent for transparency.

“To be fair and for transparent communication to the public as well, all one-time emergency expenditures that were put in the budget for 2019 are reported back to council through the one-time capital and project expenditure report,” Fox said.

The recreation reserve is not completely drained after the transfer of funds to the temporary emergency response reserve and unused funds can be moved back at a later date.

The only way to access any funds is for administration to come to council directly because these expenditures weren’t originally budgeted for in the 2020 budget, CAO Emily Olsen clarified.

COVID numbers are not ‘inevitable’

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Premier says how pandemic plays out is up to Albertans

Premier Jason Kenney released modelling projections for COVID-19 by Alberta Health that he believes highlight the importance of continuing aggressive countermeasures.

Alberta’s per capita number of recorded infections is the second highest in Canada, but the rate of hospitalizations due to Covid-19 is much lower than Ontario, Quebec, and BC. Kenney stated in an address to the province on April 7 that the high recorded infections is due to one of the highest levels of testing in the world.

He also added that Ontario, Quebec, and BC all saw their first cases before Alberta, and Alberta may still catch up to their numbers.

“You’ve probably heard about the “curve” of infections. That’s the rate at which infections grow in a country or region. I’m glad to report that the curve in Alberta is much lower than many other parts of the world,” Kenney said.

Modelling was released on April 8, showing three very different scenarios – probable, elevated, and extreme.

Given early and aggressive interventions and contact tracing to limit spread, the probable scenario is expected to be the most likely scenario for Alberta.

This probable scenario projects that Alberta will hit the peak in mid-May, with as many as 800,000 infections, and between 400 and 3,100 deaths from the beginning until the end of the summer.

The probable peak of hospitalizations is projected to be in late May, ranging from 736 to 900.

“Those numbers are not inevitable. How this actually plays out – how many people are infected, how many die, whether we overwhelm our healthcare system – all of that depends on us and our choices,” Kenney said.

Choices include following the rules and recommendations set out by health officials in the province.

“We are confident that our health system will be able to cope, and that we have the supplies on hand to get the job done,” Kenney said.

The elevated scenario, which Kenney called less likely, shows infections peak at the beginning of May, with as many as 1 million infections, and between 500 and 6,600 deaths.

The extreme scenario shows what would have happened if Alberta did not undertake early and aggressive interventions and contact tracing to limit spread.

Without those measures in place, the peak could have seen 1.6 million total infections and anywhere from 16,000 to 32,000 total deaths.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has received an extra $500M for the fight against COVID-19.

The North Zone, in which Hinton is located, currently has 33 hospitals, with 929 beds, 12 intensive care units, and 33 ventilators.

Alberta in total has 8,483 hospital beds, with 509 ventilators. AHS plans to have 2,250 COVID-19 designated acute care beds by the end of April.

This is being achieved by postponing scheduled surgeries, tests and procedures, transferring patients who no longer require acute care to a community setting, increasing occupancy while maintaining physical distance between patients, and opening overcapacity, and new and decommissioned spaces.

AHS is also planning an increase of ICU capacity by 1081 beds for COVID-19 patients by the end of April, and to have 761 ventilators available by the end of April.

To prepare the workforce for COVID-19, AHS is accelerating training for ICU nurses, preparing new models of care to expand the reach of existing ICU nurses, working with the faculties of nursing to complete senior practicums to enable the nurses to enter the workforce, contacting former registered nurses with ICU experience and other recently retired staff, and redeploy anesthesiologists, other physicians, other nurses, respiratory therapists, other allied health professionals and other staff with appropriate skills to work in a critical care environment.

In his provincial address, Kenney stated that despite the huge financial stress on families and small business owners, lifting the public health order now would force an even more stringent lockdown in the future.

This means that public health orders may stay in place until at least the end of May. 

Alberta Health models suggest social distancing measures should not be lifted until the end of May.

Kenney said once the peak is past and the province can begin to releax rules, a Relaunch Strategy will be implemented. That strategy includes an aggressive system of mass testing, more precise tracing of close contacts of those who are infected, strong border screening, enforcing quarantine orders, and encouraging and facilitating the use of masks in crowded public spaces.

“Ultimately this virus will pose a great threat to human health until a vaccine or effective drug treatments are widely available. AHS is already participating in trials, and we will do everything we can to accelerate development of effective tests, drugs and vaccines,” Kenney said.

Kenney compared the economic downturn to the 1930s, but he expects a global economic recovery from Covid-19 later this year.

The crash in energy prices means that Alberta’s downturn will be deeper, with a slower recovery. 

In an effort to help families and employers, the province committed $12B to the Covid-19 Action Plan, which includes initiatives like deferrals on taxes, mortgages, utility payments, and student loans; extra money for homeless shelters and charities serving the isolated; and emergency isolation payments.

“We will do more, including a huge new investment in job-creating infrastructure projects,” Kenney said.

Due to the crisis, Alberta’s budget deficit this year may triple from $7 billion to almost $20 billion, he added.