‘Too Early To Tell’

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

COVID and an energy slump caused a dip in real estate activity.

The market shows signs of rebounding, but realtors can’t yet predict long-term impacts.

In a province reeling from a dramatic drop in energy prices, the COVID-19 pandemic added another punch to the real estate industry, according to the Alberta Real Estate Association (AREA).

Ann-Marie Lurie, chief economist at AREA, said the first month of the health emergency crisis in Alberta saw an immediate negative impact on sales.

“The first month was fairly significant, about a 50 per cent drop compared to what we had last year,” Lurie said.

AREA’s market report in March stated that the month started out promising but following the spread of COVID-19, provincial real estate sales declined by nine per cent, while new listings declined by 15 per cent.

Sellers took their houses off the market in March and were not comfortable with people entering their homes, said Sharon Hawboldt, Alberta West REALTORS® Association media spokesperson and President/Chair.

With more people staying at home and offices closing, realtors in the area began hosting more virtual showings and tours, Hawboldt said.

“Consumer confidence was very low during that first period. As things started to open up though, from my perspective, that initial spring market that we were starting to see is coming now, fast and furious in a lot of cases,” said Hawboldt, who owns Century 21 Twin Realty in Edson. 

Despite numbers not being where they used to be, the housing market certainly isn’t dead, she added, but it is difficult to predict how quickly the market will recover.

“Normally we have a good fall market, but that could be when we have a second wave,” she said.

She predicts that as long as people are working they will continue to go ahead with real estate decisions they had planned prior to the pandemic.

Brad Kopp, local realtor and owner of Royal Lepage Andre Kopp & Associates, stated that sales in March and April were essentially cut in half this year, while Hinton’s Coldwell Banker team said real estate activity in March came to a screeching halt.

“I think it’s pretty hard to look at those numbers and say that was not the result of COVID-19,” Kopp said.

In both 2018 and 2019 he had more than 40 sales in March and April, while in 2020 he had 17.

Kopp questioned if the activity that didn’t happen over March and April is yet to come later this summer as things recover.

Kopp added that Hinton has always benefitted from a relatively strong economy driven by some key industry players including the mill, mines, and oil and gas. When one wasn’t performing, Hinton could lean on another, he said. 

Seanna Dallaire, office manager at Coldwell Banker, said consumer confidence is back and their realtors hope the returned rush will extend throughout the summer. 

Buyers are still getting approved for mortgages and sellers are still confident their houses are going to sell without a significant drop in price, Dallaire said.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) forecasted that Canada will experience a historic recession in 2020 with significant declines in all housing indicators. 

They stated that the decline in housing activity is compounded in oil producing provinces as the energy sector is also experiencing historic lows.

Sales and prices are expected to start recovering by mid-2021 as the pandemic recedes, but are still likely to remain below their pre-COVID-19 levels by the end of 2022, stated CMHC.

CMHC also believes that housing starts will likely see a decline of 51 per cent to 75 per cent in the second half of 2020 from pre-COVID-19 levels before starting to recover in the first half of 2021 as economic conditions improve.

CMHC forecasts a decline in sales ranging from 19 per cent to 29 per cent from pre-COVID-19 levels. The price of houses is also forecasted to decline by 9 per cent to 18 per cent compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Local realtors have not seen a price drop to near that extent.

“During the pandemic there was about a five to seven per cent decrease in prices,” said Roxanne Jahnke, realtor at Coldwell Banker.

Dallaire explained that five to seven per cent equates roughly to $5,000 and $15,000, depending on the home price. 

With a busy start to June, Kopp said out of the properties sold when he spoke to The Voice, on average are selling at 95.22 per cent of the list price.

“I don’t think a two-month softening in the market, call that buyer activity going from what it should have been to what it actually was, is enough to really have a downward pressure on prices,” Kopp said.

He believes it’s too early to tell what the pandemic impact on real estate is, but added that numbers were trending positively as of June 2.

“There are 15 conditionally sold properties in the market. By all accounts this is a large number  of pending sales and is indicative that buyer activity has picked up in recent weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly curbed the number of buyers looking at homes, but that has been inreasing since COVID measures began being lifted.”

Hawboldt agreed and said there are a lot of unknowns right now in the market.  She added that her office has been busy lately, but that not all realtors in the area will say the same.

“Of course the mortgage rates are certainly helping because they’re so low. It’s a great time for mortgages,” Hawboldt said, adding that things will change July 1 when requirements for mortgages are tightened.

CMHC announced in early June that it would tighten rules for offering mortgage insurance.

Among the measures being put in place is making it harder for those not putting at least 20 per cent for a downpayment to get mortgage insurance, and establishing a minimum credit score of 680, up from the current standard of 600.

On the flipside, the Canadian government and mortgage lenders have undertaken a number of measures – like payment deferrals – to support the mortgage industry and foster financial stability. 

Lurie said the ability to defer mortgage payments has prevented a far worse scenario in the housing market. Some people’s incomes have also been affected, adding to factors that are slowing demand.

With the lack of demand and an expectation that supply will improve, Lurie anticipates some prices to move down this year.

Risk and uncertainty regarding the economic situation weighed on home prices which eased by nearly three per cent in March, compared to last year, the AREA report said.

Lurie expects sales to be fairly slow for the remainder of the year as it will take time for people to get back into a routine.

“And in Alberta, the situation is also a little bit different because of the energy sector. It’s not just COVID-19 affecting the market, we have the layered impact of the job losses in the energy sector,” Lurie added.

While impacts of COVID-19 may be temporary, the energy sector has a much more long term and significant impact, Lurie said.

Assuming there is no second wave that will shut down the economy again, lingering effects on real estate will push into next year.

Some areas that aren’t heavily based on the energy sector in Alberta may see recovery sooner than others, Lurie said.

Hawboldt noted that one positive factor in Yellowhead County is the Trans Mountain expansion project. Rentals in the area had been full throughout the winter with industry workers, and while they emptied during break up and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawboldt said rentals are slowly filling up again. Midwest Pipelines for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project and Banister Pipeline workers will transition back to the area at the end of June and will require housing.

She added that phones are getting busy again for rentals and she also received inquiries for investment properties related to pipeline work.

“We may not feel the same devastation that another area might feel because we have this pipeline activity,” Hawboldt said.

Investment activity in the area started to pick up in early March but flatlined when COVID-19 hit.

“We’ve done a lot of comparisons between different recessions and by far this is one of the worst recessions we’ve seen for some time. This is currently playing out to be worse than what we saw in 2015 and 2016,” Lurie said.

She explained that typically during a recession, not everything is impacted to the extent that it has been impacted during the pandemic.

One thing to consider is that there are some differences between segments of the market, Lurie said. Lower price segments are generally doing better than some of the higher end products, at least in urban areas, Lurie explained.

“It won’t be even across the housing market, you might see more price corrections occur in the higher end of the market than what you might see in the lower end of the market,” Lurie said.

Break and enter numbers drop in 2020

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Hinton’s RCMP detachment continues to focus on decreasing break and enters after seeing a five year high in 2019.

“We all felt within the RCMP detachment that we needed to focus and do a better job with reducing the break and enters that are occurring in this area,” said Chris Murphy, Hinton RCMP staff sergeant during a presentation at the regular council meeting on June 16.

The specific goal is to reduce break and enters by seven per cent as compared to 2019. Additionally, the local RCMP wants to increase the clearance rate by 26 per cent, meaning that they want to increase solving these crimes and holding individuals accountable.

Murphy also plans to increase the number of search warrants compared to past years and decrease traffic fatalities, injuries, and property damage collisions in Hinton. 

Numbers of crime in 2019 were high across the board when Murphy presented at the town hall earlier this year.

This year, from Jan. 1 to May 31, there has been a 37 per cent decrease in persons crimes, a 13 per cent decrease of property crime, a 58 per cent decrease in other criminal code offences, and a 59 per cent decrease in break and enters, which resulted in 22 fewer incidents. Theft under $5,000 dropped by 14 per cent, with 15 fewer incidents, while theft from motor vehicles remains similar to previous years.

“Going into COVID-19 in March, we expected to see certain areas spike. Family violence related calls was one concern we had initially. I can tell you I’m pretty proud of Hinton and the residents here because our community did fairly well compared to other communities in a lot of areas,” Murphy said.

The expected increases didn’t occur for a number of reasons, Murphy said, due to supports in place in Hinton, and people staying home during the pandemic, reducing the opportunity for offences.

Unfortunately, in the last three weeks, numbers of crime have begun to climb again.

“Usually when the economy is struggling, we in the policing world see an increase across the board because that relates to a lot more stress for a lot more people, which would relate to potentially addictions, mental health, and then property crime and potentially persons crime,” Murphy said.

Within the last seven days, the RCMP received 96 calls for service, which is an increase compared to some periods of 60 calls in the earlier pandemic months.

This year, until June 9, 2020, RCMP responded to 1842 complaints, while in 2019 they responded to 2250 calls.

“This is very important to me and to the RCMP that we are prepared for a potential increase and that the members are able to respond to any increases we do see,” Murphy said.

Throughout the pandemic, members made sure they were prepared for any other emergency.

Two Hinton RCMP members were tested for COVID-19 and both received negative results.

Initially the RCMP had leave restrictions where no members of the RCMP could have any leave whatsoever during the pandemic, which has recently been lifted in June.

The Hinton detachment remains closed to public, but RCMP services have not stopped.

There was no plan for COVID-19 but the detachment quickly came up with policies and procedures to handle the emergency.

Murphy added that it was very positive moving into the pandemic and having all municipal positions filled within the detachment and be able to respond accordingly. 

Two transfers are occurring this summer, one replacement will move from the Stony Plain and Spruce Grove area and another from BC later this summer.

“There may be a period of time where I’m running a single vacancy, however the positive is that the replacement has already been identified,” Murphy said.

The habitual management program continues to operate with mixed response over the past few years, Murphy added. 

Two individuals in the program right now are both complying with their conditions and seeking assistance to stop underlying issues to their offending behaviour. 

“For each one it’s a little bit different, for some it may be housing, it may be employment, it may be addictions, it may be mental health. Each individual is a bit different and we’re making sure referrals are made and the person is receiving the help that they require,” Murphy said.

Crime mapping continues to be a tool for RCMP members to identify which areas in town are crime hotspots.

Murphy said they are seeing some success by putting resources in the right places at the right time.

RCMP Bike patrols have also started this year and foot patrols will increase.

Murphy stated that foot patrols help recover bikes in strategic locations and that one member has taken the initiative to record serial numbers via an app that will be introduced to Hinton. 

After Coun. Trevor Haas asked about stolen bikes, Murphy said there has been some success in recovering two stolen bikes, one being the bike of Masaaki Yoshino, the Japanese cyclist who was travelling through Hinton during a long North America cycle journey, as well as one from a Jasper biker.

Another tool for the RCMP to reduce crime is public education and communication, which allows RCMP to work with the community to make crimes more difficult to commit.

Residents continue to call in about suspicious vehicles and persons, which helps RCMP members keep streets safer.

The detachment began consulting the community in January through presentations, a town hall meeting and other initiatives.

A lot of feedback received by the RCMP surrounded property crime, which was similar to years past, Murphy said.

Specifically individuals were concerned about break and enters, into a house or business. 

Another concern by the public was related to traffic, usually speeding or distracted driving.

Community consultation is one of the RCMP’s priorities and Murphy added that residents continue being involved in the community.

Consultation initiatives such as coffee with a cop will continue but may look different, Murphy said.

Hinton’s RCMP plans to host another town hall virtually in the fall.

“This has been piloted at another detachment and they had really good results. It seemed people were more willing to participate in something when they didn’t actually have to come to a venue outside of their house,” Murphy said.

A date for this public town hall will be announced by the RCMP later.

Lessons learned through COVID: ATA

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

A recent study revealed that although the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified education challenges of inequity and poverty, it has also accelerated new opportunities with digital technologies and collaboration within the school community.

More than 8,000 Alberta teachers and school leaders were surveyed in a pandemic research study by the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA).

The study ran from April 27 to May 15, 2020, and covered well-being, equity, technology use and online instruction, pedagogical practices and the profession of teaching, and the return to public school buildings.

Jessica Smeall, local ATA president, Evergreen Local 11, said the first few weeks were tough and overwhelming as teachers, students, and parents were thrown into an emergency online teaching situation with zero notice, but that everybody has slowly learned to adjust to the changes.

The benefit of moving to online learning at the end of this school year was that teachers already got to know their students after spending six months with them prior to being physically disconnected.

“In September, I think it would be tough to start with a brand new class in this format, but knowing that we have connections with other staff members in our schools who have already made those connections, [we can] collaborate on what worked for a particular student,” Smeall said.

When the survey asked how teachers are holding up, 70 per cent of respondents said they felt exhausted and 63 per cent said they felt isolated due to working from home.

“If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. So I think making sure you as a teacher or as a parent or as a student are taking care of yourself first and foremost,” said Smeall.

Smeall, who is also a teacher at Ecole Mountain View in Hinton, said she sees that teachers in her own school, across the province, and even herself are feeling exhausted.

“You have to make sure you’re taking your own mental health into your control and I am very proud to say that at least in our division I’ve seen so many feel good projects and teachers lifting each other up and connecting with parents in several different methods to make sure that everybody is ok,” she said.

She added that she’s proud of the staff and teachers in her division for making connections and collaborating with colleagues and parents.

Thirty-five per cent of teachers in the survey said they are taking on some of the trauma their students are feeling, specifically the concern of if their students are safe and fed.

Seventy-five per cent don’t feel the same emotional connection with their students as they did prior to the pandemic, and 65 per cent of teachers feel their energy level is lower than 30 days ago.

Teachers are also worried about the impact emergency remote teaching has on students who need extra attention. 

Extra help beyond classroom support is a concern for 62 per cent of teachers and 64 per cent said access to technology and digital literacy is an issue.

Teachers identified students living in poverty, living in single-parent homes, with exceptionalities, and with English as a second language at risk and struggling.

Teachers also identified male students as having more difficulty than female students.

Being in a rural division also comes with its own challenges, but everyone is working for the betterment of the students and staff, Smeall said.

While families are more spread out in a rural division, teachers and school staff have lent out technology resources, shared digital and paper copies, and tried to meet the needs of students in an effort to reach as many families as possible.

On a positive note, 57 per cent of teachers said they’re more collaborative with their colleagues and school leadership and 91 per cent have a positive working relationship with parents and guardians.

“We’ve been finding new resources that we will carry in future years for sure,” Smeall said.

Working in a french immersion school, Smeall has used google classroom as a centre for uploading recordings that could be a future resource for parents who don’t speak french.

Finding a variety of technologies, sharing them, and finding what works best for students and teachers has been a positive change.

“Unfortunately, without being face to face with the students we are losing a lot of those connections. We are doing what we can with phone calls and meets and such,” Smeall continued.

While technology has been essential in the rapid move to online instruction, some negative effects have also been noted by teachers.

Teachers are connecting with their students mostly through email, video calls or virtual meet-ups, and telephone calls and 35 per cent of students access online instruction through laptops and 32 per cent by mobile devices.

Teachers said readiness to learn, the ability to focus, and checking in online each day has declined since March.

Results showed that this could be a result of excessive screen time, technology costs for families, remote access challenges and lack of support, and a concern with growth in privatization of educational services.

One teacher in the survey noted that parent engagement has fallen off track significantly as time went on. Smeall added that as everyone has found their groove in homeschool/online teaching, there has been a decline in online engagement, which was to be expected.

“People are out more, they’re out with their families. Sometimes that connection is just as important as the online schooling,” Smeall said.

Results of the study showed that the top three concerns of Alberta teachers were school safety, student learning needs for school re-entry, and the well being for all.

Specifically, health and safety measures in regards to slowing the spread of COVID-19 were a concern for school safety, while the concern for student learning needs refers to the support for vulnerable populations, student engagement and motivation, and less high-stakes testing and more authentic assessments.

Businesses adjust to Stage 2 of Alberta relaunch

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Stage 2 of Alberta’s economic relaunch strategy and some steps that were scheduled to wait until the third stage came earlier than expected for many local businesses.

“We had a lot of calls from businesses during the closure, at phase 1, and again now for phase 2. They had many questions and we either answered over the phone and also went there to assist with adhering to the restrictions,” stated Jean Snow, protective services coordinator.

Back at the start of the closure, Hinton’s protective services contacted all businesses to find out who was open and if any needed assistance with the restrictions.  

A Community Peace Officer went to each open business to review the restrictions and deliver provincial restriction information, as well as the State of Local Emergency (SOLE) when it was declared.

When restaurants reopened, protective services staff revisited the locations and assisted with occupancy, table set up, cleaning, etc, Snow added.

“They were all very appreciative of this. Not all restaurants reopened completely and some are now going into the next phase,” she said.

Restaurants have started to call for help with the restrictions in the second stage and protective services will continue to help any businesses with adhering to the restrictions.

Public Health Inspectors continue to respond to complaints and service requests related to COVID-19 received from the public through the online portal, stated Kerry Williamson, communications for Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Since January, AHS conducted 175 inspections in Hinton, according to Williamson.

“As businesses reopen, inspectors are now moving back to normal operations by conducting monitoring inspections, which means a Public Health Inspector may show up at a business unannounced to conduct an inspection,” Williamson said.

Inspectors primarily use education to help ensure that operators handle foods safely, and enforcement is the exception.

Enforcement activities are conducted specifically in cases with facilities who are not complying with the orders by the chief medical officer of health.

On May 14, Stage 1 of the provincial relaunch strategy allowed some businesses like local cafes and restaurants to reopen.

Since stocking up on personal protective equipment and setting up their spaces for physical distancing, restrictions for these businesses have now changed again in the second stage.

The Old Grind opened later in May and only allowed customers in at half-capacity, as according to the restrictions of Stage 1.

Now in Stage 2, staff will no longer have to do head counts since capacity restrictions were lifted on June 12. 

Melanie Widenmaier, owner of The Old Grind cafe, said that physical distancing of two metres between tables is still mandatory, which doesn’t allow a lot of room to add patrons.

“I’m not sure how it will work for larger spaces but we will still be restricted at The Old Grind because of the size of our space. We might be able to add a few more seats but that’s about it,” Widenmaier said.

“I do however hope that this change in restrictions will inspire confidence in the public.”

Mr. Mikes in Hinton decided to delay their reopening until June 15, despite being allowed to open in mid-May. The restaurant began with take-out at the start of June.

Jessica Halvorson, general manager at Mr. Mikes, said bar top seating will be closed until further notice, but that patio will accommodate physical distancing nicely. 

“We don’t have a lot of concerns at this point, we are a little frustrated with the limited seating but we can technically open for 100 per cent occupancy,” Halvorson said.

Mr. Mikes has gone from about 270 seats down to approximately 140 with two metre physical distancing in place. 

“We will be relying heavily on community support once our doors do open with the travel restrictions still in place,” Halvorson added.

Stage 2 included the reopening of theatres, thus the Performing Arts Theatre of Hinton (PATH) was given the green light for operations.

Wendy Laurila, facility coordinator of the PATH, said that prior to the closure, the PATH had a fantastic assortment of entertainment lined up for the month of June and summer months. Unfortunately, these groups had made the tough decision to cancel as a precaution.

“We are extremely eager and as much as we would love to have our theatre filled with the sounds of wonderful entertainment, we will not be opening doors to the public at this time,” Laurila said.

Staff at the PATH are preparing to open, but The Home for Fine Arts Society of Hinton and The PATH staff want to ensure all safety measures are in place.

The current restriction of a maximum of 50 people indoors is not feasible for user groups of the PATH, because a live production can already have over 20 people working behind the scenes.

Aside from performers, stagehands, technicians, ushers, volunteer concession crew and staff, an audience would be very limited.

“There would also be the issue of maintaining social distancing on stage,” said Laurila.

Similarly, Hinton Movies doesn’t have access to movie premieres as the industry waits for assurance that movie-goers will return to theatres.

Laurila added that regular user groups of the PATH are starting to book for the new season and are bringing a great selection of entertainment.

Projects expedited for HCHS

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Previously approved maintenance projects by Alberta Education at Harry Collinge High School have been accelerated to be completed within six months.

School jurisdictions were asked to propose school maintenance and renewal projects following an advancement of Alberta Education’s capital portion of the Infrastructure, Maintenance and Renewal (IMR) funding in April.

Projects identified for completion at Harry Collinge High School in Hinton include upgrading to LED lighting, replacing boilers, and renovating six washrooms.

The projects will commence following the tendering and contracting process stated Dr. Kelly Harding, assistant superintendent at Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD).

The increase in IMR funding provides necessary upgrades to schools and creates jobs to help Albertans get back to work sooner, the province stated.

Provincial capital maintenance and renewal spending for the 2020-21 school year will double from $937M to $1.9B, while IMR funding for school divisions will increase by $250M.

“The advancement of these funds is intended to allow government and school jurisdictions to act quickly on projects across the province to keep Albertans employed during these challenging times, while also providing much-needed upgrades to existing schools,” stated Harding.

Proposed school maintenance and renewal projects had to align with the intent of the IMR Program and should be completed in six months. 

All accepted projects were previously submitted and approved by Alberta Education.

According to the Alberta Capital Maintenance and Renewal program approved on May 20, GYPSD will receive $2,500,000 from the provincial government.

Within GYPSD, other schools receiving funds for maintenance projects include Parkland Composite High School in Edson and Summitview School in Grande Cache.

School expected to be back in for September

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Alberta Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange, said June 10 that students are expected to be back in school in September.

The provincial government will make a final decision on Aug. 1 on which scenario schools, teachers, and students can expect.

In the meantime, school authorities will plan for three different scenarios. The targeted scenario includes near normal operations with in-school classes and some health measures.

In scenario 2, in-school classes will only partially resume with additional health measures.

Physical distancing would remain mandatory and only 15 people would be allowed per classroom.

The final scenario would keep students learning from home as they have during the past three months.

LaGrange noted that all school boards will need to be adaptable for any scenario and that the direction from the province may vary regionally based on active cases in that area. School authorities won’t be able to choose which scenario they operate in, but will have autonomy of how they meet requirements within those scenarios.

Under the first and preferred scenario, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of high touch surfaces will be implemented several times per day. Staff and students will be screened routinely, they must wash their hands when entering and exiting the school and classrooms, and a strict stay-at-home policy will be in place for anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

Physical distancing and grouping measures are encouraged in different ways, including reorganizing rooms to create space.

Staff and students would not be mandated to wear masks, and it is not recommended for younger students to wear a mask. Students can’t share equipment and supplies.

Scenario two will include the same measures as scenario one but will additionally only allow 15 people per classroom and require consistent physical distancing.

Students will attend school less regularly under the second scenario and school authorities will need to adjust schedules.

Any summer programming will follow scenario 2 of the re-entry plan and the associated public health measures.

Students taking diploma courses this summer will proceed to write diploma exams, unlike students in current spring diploma courses.

In the case of scenario 3 in the following school year, diploma exams and provincial achievement tests for Grade 6 and 9 may be cancelled.

British Columbia

Students in neighbouring British Columbia returned to school on June 1 on a part-time, voluntary basis.

Before re-opening, schools had to submit a health and safety plan to the provincial government that was to follow the provincial health officer’s guidelines. Anyone entering a school building must wash their hands and some schools are only allowing staff and students inside to avoid additional traffic.

Other safety measures like physical distancing are also in place, similar to Alberta’s measures.

The BC Ministry of Education said between 20 to 80 per cent of students were expected to return on alternating days, depending on the district. 

Most students in Kindergarten to Grade 5 returned to school half time, while grades 6 to 12 go to school about one day a week. At-home learning remains an option for families who decided not to send their children to class.


The Saskatchewan government announced on June 9 that in-class learning for prekindergarten to Grade 12 students will resume at the start of the new school year on Sept. 1. Students in Saskatchewan will finish out this year with at-home learning. 

Public health guidelines are in the process of being developed for schools and would be shared with school divisions this week.


Quebec was the first province in Canada to return to elementary classrooms outside of Montreal on May 11, but with strict health and safety measures.

Schools in Montreal and all secondary schools in the province will remain closed until September.

Other Provinces

Manitoba and PEI followed suit and reopened all of their schools, although optional in all cases.

Elementary and high schools in Manitoba partially reopened, which means students take turns going to class, or have small group classes.

PEI students can schedule meetings with their teachers at school or small, outdoor classes are optional.

All remaining provinces and territories have announced their K-12 schools will stay closed until September at least.

Hinton Golf Club project profit in 2020

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Kyle Crawford, director of the Hinton Golf Club, presented the club’s 2020 budget and business plan as part of a temporary reporting arrangement to the Town of Hinton and Council at the Standing Committee Meeting on June 9.

The projected profit for the Hinton Golf Club in 2020 is slightly over $8,000. 

While unexpected expenses can sometimes come up throughout the year, Crawford is confident that the club can reach the goal of an $8000 profit.

He stated the club’s focus for 2020 is increasing the number of rounds and increasing food and beverage revenue on a monthly basis, as well as providing excellent customer service.

Crawford said staff is tracking everything, including rounds, revenue, and wages, and sending data to its board members.

“This will give us a daily percentage of where we are relative to our budget that we have created for 2020,” Crawford said during his presentation.

Adjustments can then be made when problems arise right away instead of catching issues months later, he explained.

This data will also help gear marketing initiatives to get people on the property and increase rounds.

“Considering we’re only open for one month, we don’t know if data is skewed in certain areas. We’ll find out at the three month mark,” Crawford said.

That data and the budget for 2021 will come back to council as soon as possible, Crawford added.

Projected expenses in 2020 add up to $761,617.14, which are slightly higher than 2019 numbers.

Clubhouse expenses double in 2020 compared to 2019, because the clubhouse will be fully operational this year.

A fully operational clubhouse will also increase its revenue stream.

Everything within the restaurant will be done in house going forward, Crawford explained.

“The restaurant is rebranded, not just the restaurant as part of the Hinton Golf Club but as its own entity as Pano Bar & Grill,” Crawford said.

He added that one major factor of the expense increase in the club house is due to bringing everything up to code and to pass health and safety inspections. 

“We had coolers and grease traps cleaned out, hood vents, that’s why that expense is there,” Crawford said.

The cost for maintenance of the course dropped around $30,000 from 2019 numbers because of wage cuts as some employees were laid off during the pandemic and also due to snow remaining on the property.

Coun. Ryan Maguhn brought up the fact that the club isn’t eligible for the federal wage subsidy in the club’s current state related to how the municipality is involved.

Crawford added that since the course still had snow into May, they could not have opened even without the impact of COVID-19. 

“Unless we had been open on April 1, then we could have shown a loss in revenue,” Crawford said.

COVID-19 restrictions did however keep the pro shop closed much longer causing loss of revenue, but pro shop expenses are also projected to be slightly less due to wage cuts.

“We did drop some wages and have two less people on staff than last year. Trying to make sure we are somewhat profitable this year moving forward,” Crawford added.

Since moving some wages around from general administration expenses to the pro shop expenses, the expenses for general administration dropped substantially since 2019.

Crawford managed to bring down expenses even more through making deals with all vendors the golf course deals with.

“We were able to cut some costs drastically through phoning every company that we deal with and make deals with them moving forward,” Crawford said.

The club is also partnering with the Jasper golf course again this year to offer a 30 per cent discount to Jasper members and vice versa.

A two round package deal to play both Jasper and Hinton will also be available this year.

Since Jasper’s course was closed until June 1 due to COVID-19, the Hinton Golf Club generated about $2,300 in revenue by having some of Jasper’s members and the public travelling to Hinton to play the course.

Membership registrations at the Hinton Golf Club are pretty similar to last year while league registrations are down, due to the restrictions around COVID-19.

Crawford projects an increase in green fees compared to last year but said golf cart revenue has been down since more people are walking.

Some new initiatives Crawford hoped to introduce this year were leasing opportunities in the clubhouse building and music and comedy nights to boost food and beverage revenue as well as bringing in members of the public to enjoy.

These two initiatives haven’t been able to take off due to restrictions around COVID-19.

In pre-pandemic times, administration intended for the golf course asset transfer to the Town to be fully realized and a decision regarding the Club’s operational structure and parameters made by Council, said Heather Waye, Hinton’s strategic services manager.

“As this was not achievable during the pandemic, this report and the following report coming in the fall, serve to achieve the goals of oversight in the original motion as a stop gap,” Waye explained. 

This temporary reporting arrangement is an effort to ensure that the Town of Hinton, and Hinton Town Council, are aware of all current statuses and actions, she stated.

Land use, safety code, and HR bylaws approved

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council approved all bylaws that came back to them for approval at the regular council meeting on June 16.

Mayor Marcel Michaels then brought forward a discussion item around Hinton’s third bylaw officer position, which prompted a request for an information report on the impacts of removing the position from the Town.

Council approves Land Use Bylaw

Council gave all three readings for Land Use Bylaw (LUB) 1088-14. LUB amendments include establishing the director of development services as a Planning Authority for the municipality to exercise subdivision and development powers and designate the duties to any other person.

These authorities must be provided to exercise subdivision and development powers and perform duties on behalf of the municipality, according to the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

Council’s authorization of the director of development services with the required delegation authority provides flexibility to delegate duties where necessary to ensure sustainability and to provide more efficient customer service.

Peter Vana, director of development services, stated that anyone delegated that authority is required to follow policies and procedures to ensure consistency of service.

According to administration’s report, this provides Council with assurance that the municipality is prepared to support customers during difficult conditions such as the pandemic where staffing levels have been negatively affected through layoffs, sick leaves, and shifting workloads. 

Safety Codes Permit Bylaw approved

The Safety Codes Permit Bylaw 1148 is necessary for the Town of Hinton becoming an accredited Municipality for Safety Codes Services and establishing an Administrative function for permit sales and file administration.

Interim CAO Emily Olsen stated that bylaw 1148 establishes the application procedure.

All inspections for all disciplines will be performed through a contract with an accredited agency. The readings enable the Town to begin the new service by Aug. 1, 2020 and to obtain the projected revenues expressed to Council during the initial presentation.

Vana added that Hinton has taken the model that many municipalities use as a service model when contracting out to an agency.  Services of a consultant have been retained to craft a bylaw that deals with all requirements of becoming an agency.

Development Services Fees Bylaw passed

The Development Services Fees Bylaw 1104-3 provides a framework for fees and charges related to the town providing safety code services as an accredited agency.

This bylaw establishes fees for permits issued according to the Safety Codes Act, the Permit Regulations, and the Town of Hinton’s Quality Management Plan. 

Coun. Dewly Nelson added that if adjustments need to be made in the future to fees, it would be an easy amendment. 

The fees in this bylaw are consistent with those across other jurisdictions and what other agencies charge, said Vana.

Amendments to the Development Services Fees Bylaw 1104 include safety codes fees for the disciplines of Building, Gas, Electrical, Plumbing, and Private Sewage.

The Town of Hinton Protective Services Department is already accredited under the Safety Codes Act in the Fire discipline and will be incorporated into the new Town Quality Management Plan for the noted disciplines. 

Employment Principles Policy approved

The Employment Principles Policy HR-1905 was the first of four policies before council to support cleaning up outdated and noncompliant human resource policies. 

Olsen stated that the Town also has three Council approved Policies regarding Employee Principals, all three of which are outdated and in need of revision.

These Policies do not reflect MGA requirements, current legislative requirements, or best practice.

The revised Policy HR-1905 outlines these new legislative requirements. 

The revised guiding Policy will set standards, protect employees, and ensure the Town follows the due diligence required to protect the organization from liability, stated the report.

The updated Policy will help prevent a contravention of the Alberta Human Rights Act, which can apply a remedy as high as $100,000, and of Alberta Employment Standards, which can apply Administrative penalties ranging from $500 to $6,000, according to the report from administration.

The Town stated that having a Policy including the Town’s values of equal employment opportunities will be a useful attraction and retention tool and could reduce recruitment and staff turnover costs.

The average turnover rate in 2019 was 23 per cent.

Employee Relations Policy approved

The Employee Relations Policy HR-1904 ensures employees are treated in a manner that is fair and consistent, stated CAO Olsen.

The policy outlines employee relation practices and provides employees with knowledge on organizational practices, expectations, and processes.

It also sets consistent standards, improves communication, reduces conflict, and improves efficiencies, Olsen stated.

Strong parameters around employee relations helps to prevent a contravention of the Alberta Human Rights Act, which can apply a remedy as high as $100,000, and of Alberta Employment Standards, which can apply Administrative penalties ranging from $500 to $6,000, according to the report from administration.

The report also stated that this policy could positively impact the Town’s organizational culture as there has been an average of six harassment investigations per year in the past two years, which are expensive and time consuming.

Benefit Principles Policy approved

Benefits Principles Policy HR-1903 captures the current processes for introducing or modifying benefit plans or programs followed by the Town, stated Olsen.

The policy ensures that long-term cost implications and planning considerations are factored into organizational benefit decisions and outlines a set of principles to govern the analysis required, Olsen continued.

Benefits Principles Policy HR-1903 does not result in changes to current practices, but reflects current processes that the Town already follows.

Pay Principles Policy approved

Before approval, council amended a section within the Pay Principles Policy HR-1902 to state that the CAO must address budget impacts of any changes with council by seeking approval through a Request for Decision instead of through an Administrative Report or the Annual Budget Process.

Prior to the amendment, Olsen explained that the salary grid itself was approved through the budgetary process.

Nelson said he couldn’t recall formally approving the grid as part of the budget process but only approving the dollar amount for human resources.

“There’s to me some ambiguity around the ability for the grid to change and then be presented to council as a report,” Nelson said.

Nikiea Hope, human resources manager, said any adjustments made to the grid with implications to future budget years would have to be approved by council. 

Coun. Ryan Maguhn added that having the presentation of that grid on an annual basis as part of the budget process ensures it doesn’t get lost in the budget documents and offers some comfort.

The Pay Principles Policy is required to ensure legislative requirements such as equal pay are being met.

Contravention of these standards can result in penalties to the organization as high as $100,000, according to the report from administration.

According to the town, a Pay Principles Policy also impacts the Town’s ability to attract and retain competent employees by showing how their pay will be administered when they perform their jobs competently. 

Any Administrative decision regarding pay which would impact the Budget is still subject to Council approval.

Council rescinded Personnel Policy – Salaried Staff 027, Personnel Policy – Salaried Employees 060, and Personnel Policy General 017.

Council re-appoints member for 2020 Regional Assessment Review Board

Earlier in 2020, Council appointed a staff member as the Designated Clerk for the West Yellowhead Regional Assessment Review Board, but that employee no longer works for the Town of Hinton.

Council approved that Trisha Papke be appointed instead for a one-year term starting June 16, 2020.

Papke from Edson agreed to support the Town of Hinton through this role in 2020 since Hinton has no other staff currently certified to perform this function.

The Specialized Municipality of Jasper, the Town of Edson, and the Town of Hinton make up the  Inter-Municipal Assessment Review Board.

A Council must by bylaw establish a Local Assessment Review Board and a Composite Assessment Review Board.

Action Pending List Approved

Council approved the action pending list, including amendments regarding proposed dates for completion of items, the consolidation of items relating to fees and charges for recreation and park spaces, as well as clarification and a new completion date provided to the additional parking lot on Robb road. 

All items related to the recreation centre were included as status quo with no changes.

Coun. JoAnn Race questioned administration on whether town benches that are removed will be replaced in the same locations.

Olsen explained the first step is to complete the design and construction standards of these benches.

The exact location of the benches is still unknown, administration said.

Nelson said that while benches of high value should be replaced, those in low traffic locations could be removed and used as a cost saving measure. 

Information report requested for third bylaw officer position

Mayor Marcel Michaels brought forward a discussion item regarding the vacant peace officer position and questioned whether the Town could potentially remove this position as a cost saving measure.

Hope stated that many applications have been received in the hiring process.

Race questioned what the service level impact would be of removing the position.

Olsen explained there would be a definite impact, including a slower response time and reduced services.

“This would bring a lot of challenges back to department,” said Todd Martens, protective services manager of Hinton.

“Having two individuals only, we struggle with overtime, sick coverage, holidays, and burnout. Because of the burnout we were always replacing the CPO’s almost yearly.”

Martens added that adding the third position in the first place was to ease those issues the department and officers faced.

He did not reccomend dropping down to two officers especially during summer months and as the pandemic is slowing down.

Coun. Tyler Waugh mentioned that when council added the third position he wanted to have a service level discussion, and that now may be a good opportunity to have that discussion.

“I think we need to have a full discussion for the public just about the services that are offered, the timelines, and what impacts having two people would have,” Waugh said.

Council directed administration to provide an information report on service level and financial impacts of the bylaw services department at the standing committee meeting on July 14.

In the meantime, administration will keep the position of peace officer level one open.