Remuneration policy clarifies conference attendance

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The remuneration policy returned for discussion at the standing committee meeting on July 21 and some minor changes were added.

The amended policy will come back to a regular council meeting for decision, with the additions stating that the mayor can attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference yearly, while all councillors may attend once during their term.

The language used prior, allowed for more councilors to attend in years when the conference was held closer and it wouldn’t use up as many travel dollars, explained Heather Waye, strategic services manager.

Funding for FCM attendance is separate from council’s professional development funding, clarified Carla Fox, corporate services director.

Coun. Albert Ostashek added that the option for other council members to go was based on the amount budgeted that year and the full utilization of that, without touching the professional development funds.

“I think it’s fair and equitable and sensible that the mayor goes every year and each councilor has one opportunity within their term at their discretion to choose which year makes the most sense,” said Dewly Nelson.

Mayor Marcel Michaels brought up that having councilors attend FCM within their first three years gives them an opportunity to learn and exercise what they learned.

Some current councilors delayed going to FCM in their first two years due to strong participation and this year FCM was cancelled, Nelson pointed out.

Any councilor that is fully intending to run again can make the decision whether to expend those funds prior to an election, he added.

“I think it’s best to give each individual councilor the freedom to decide when is appropriate for them to go, because further to that, having experienced this myself as well, work commitments also play into things as well and I don’t want to put that onto a councilor,” said Coun. Ryan Maguhn.

Council then changed a previous decision that administration complete all Council timesheets to instead continue with council completing timesheets as per current practice.

Exception reporting was introduced in previous meetings and is the practice of submitting a remuneration adjustment request based on differing activities from those that would be considered the norm such as committee meetings, while administration tracks all regular meetings.

This practice is currently used among Town of Hinton Salaried staff.

“It would be simpler for me just to keep with the current reporting system that we have where we report all the meetings that we attend during the month as part of the remuneration form,” said Ostashek.

He added that if they must report some meetings, they may as well report all meetings.

Maguhn pointed out that this may put administration in a difficult position if councilors record different meeting times or don’t claim certain meetings for potential political reasons.

“If a councilor chooses to not claim for a particular meeting they attended, they’re not really acting in good faith in their role as an elected municipal official. And if they’re claiming for time that’s beyond what should be allotted for the times of the meeting, the meeting minutes have a start and end time of every meeting,” Ostashek said.

Previous additions, revisions, and clarifications included clarification regarding the definition of meetings, that consecutive meetings be deemed a single meeting in relation to meeting fees, that basic reporting be required for Council Approved Committee & Board meetings, that reports be included in the Council Agenda package on a monthly basis, and that items that constitute conference participation be tracked and reported separately from regular remuneration.

The definition of workshops was clarified within the policy upon committee’s request, to distinguish between self-directed workshops paid via honorarium or the Professional Development Account, and those which are led by administration or directed by council where additional meeting fees apply.

This policy comes back to council in the spring of 2021 for additional review and changes will be assessed at that time, clarified CAO Emily Olsen.

Province announces ‘near normal’ return to class this fall

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Students will return to daily learning in K-12 classrooms at the beginning of the school year, announced the Alberta government on July 21.

Earlier in June, Alberta Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange, released three scenarios of what K-12 schooling could look like in the fall including the targeted scenario of near-normal operations with in-school classes and some health measures.

This week, LaGrange announced that schools would be moving ahead with that targeted scenario.

Only 14 per cent of all Alberta infections have been amongst youth under the age of 19 and over the past five months only eight school aged children have been infected with COVID-19, stated Premier Jason Kenney during the update.

He added that a survey done by the Alberta School Council Association found that more than 86 per cent of parents supported a back to school plan.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, noted that extended school closures negatively impact children’s overall long term mental, emotional, and physical health.

The government developed a re-entry tool kit to prepare parents and students and health officials will continue to closely monitor the situation and update the guidance for schools based on the best evidence available.

“School days will look mostly the same as before COVID-19 but with some modifications,” stated LaGrange.

Guidance offered by the government includes placing hand sanitizer at all entrances, frequent cleaning, grouping students in cohorts and planning the school day to allow for physical distancing. 

Students are recommended to be cohorted by class, which will decrease the number of close contacts a case of COVID-19 would have in a school and assist public health officials in their efforts to trace contacts and contain an outbreak.

Masks will not be mandatory for kids in school.

Parents, students and school staff must review the self-screening questionnaire each day before going to a school building. 

Parents are encouraged to talk to schools about their child’s pre-existing medical conditions and the schools must keep a confidential record of these conditions.

If a student shows symptoms at school, parents should pick up the child immediately. 

The student will be asked to wear a non-medical mask and be isolated in a separate room or kept at least two metres away from others. 

In the case of a COVID-19 infection, the zone medical officer of health will work with school authorities to identify cases, identify close contacts, and create isolation measures when needed.

A COVID-19 case will not automatically lead to school closure. 

It could be that only the group of students and staff who came in close contact will be required to stay home for 14 days.

School authorities can reduce time spent teaching non-core subjects to allow for additional instruction time on core subjects.

Public input sought for Boutin-Drinnan project

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The Town of Hinton is calling for public input on development opportunities for the undeveloped, town owned lands at the intersection of Boutin Ave and Drinnan Way.

Town administration hopes to come up with a final concept design for the area by July 26, following a four-day design charrette.

The design charrette is created to incorporate the visions and ideas of local stakeholders and the public based on their current and future needs to develop a site plan for the three lots, totalling 4.8 hectares.

“We are seeking input to inspire our vision and guide the creation of concepts for refinement based on feedback. The end product would be a preferred concept,” stated Josh Yaworski, Hinton communications coordinator.

He added that the public can provide input, observe, make comments on what they see, and comment on which scenario or combination of scenarios they prefer.

Town staff in Development Services have used this planning methodology in previous municipalities, and their experiences are being drawn upon for this new endeavour in Hinton.

This moment is the culmination of years of work surrounding the McMillan lands, stemming from the purchase three years ago, Yaworski explained.

Council approved the purchase of the land in October 2018 with the intent of using it for social, affordable and 55+ transition housing development.

“The purpose of the charrette is to imagine the possibilities for all types of housing, not just seniors housing,” clarified Yaworski.

In September 2019, an RFP process was approved to select a consultant to complete a geotechnical site assessment on the McMillan Land.

Council also approved $25,000 of unused South Area Structure Plan funds to support a geotechnical site assessment.

Unused funds from the South Area Structure Plan were used to expedite the process, rather than waiting until after the 2020 budget deliberations.

Developing this land for seniors’ housing was established as a priority in council’s strategic plan. 

Stakeholder groups invited to the charrette include the general public, builders, community service groups, and council and town staff.

The Boutin Avenue design charrette is described as an intensive engagement process that sees the project go from a vision stage to a final concept design over a four-day period. 

The design team, V3 Companies of Canada, takes information from stakeholder groups and creates a series of site plans that capture different visions. 

The Town has been coordinating efforts with Evergreens Foundation, which manages the nearby Pine Valley Lodge, on this project.

The intent is to have a preferred concept design that has the support from those who participated in the design charrette.

After the charrette, the town will complete a development pro forma that will position the Town to decide on next steps. 

A pro forma analysis is a set of calculations that projects the financial return that a proposed real estate development is likely to create.

Participants are requested to attend the events on at least three out of the four days to enable the project to reach its full potential.

Day one of the charrette on July 23 is the learning and visioning day, where information and input on vision and design concepts will be gathered.

Four sessions will run from 7 pm until 10:45 pm, starting on the hour.

The following day is the design day, where the concept ideas will be refined. While day two is optional for attendance, all stakeholders and the public are invited to drop in from 10 am to 8 pm.

On day three, attendees will offer feedback on the design concepts during five sessions between 6 pm and 10:45 pm, starting on the hour.

A presentation on the preferred design will be done on the final day, on July 26. Day four again will be done in five sessions between 6 pm and 10:45 pm, starting on the hour.

The Town noted that it will be maintaining physical distancing during the event at the Hinton Government Centre.

Some businesses staying closed amidst relaunch

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Others are adapting operations to offer services and products

Despite phase one of Alberta’s relaunch strategy allowing certain businesses to reopen, some have chosen to delay their own reopen date or find other ways to run their business.

Hinton’s Mr. Mikes is cautiously delaying their reopen date, the Hen House Textile Co. is changing the way they run their business, and the local Northern Rockies Museum of Culture and Heritage is awaiting more changes in the provincial restrictions. 

Mr. Mikes received a big order of food not long before they were ordered to shut down in March, which turned into a big loss, said Karen Halvorson, one of the owners of Mr. Mikes.

That loss had a big impact on how they decided to proceed now that they’re allowed to open again, Halvorson said.

Managers were hesitant about spending a lot of money to get their stock back, especially with the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 shutting the restaurant down in the future.

Their current plan is to open for takeout on June 1, with possible seating on the patio, and fully open the restaurant on June 15 depending on the regulations at that time.

When phase one was first announced, Halvorson was surprised and a little fearful of reopening.

She said personal protective equipment (PPE) wasn’t available then, and they still haven’t received everything they’ll need to open.

“Another reason why we’re behind the eight ball, basically, it’s going to cost us more for that safety equipment then plus our inventory on top of it. It’s a scary time,” Halvorson said.

Halvorson is also concerned about their lease payments for the building, as no revenue is coming in.

“We’re behind in our utilities and a few other bills that didn’t get paid because there just wasn’t any money coming in. It’s just a cashflow thing,” Halvorson said.

On top of that, there will be extra training for staff on how to clear tables and clean them.

Another issue is not bringing back all the staff at the same time; physical distancing restrictions make it difficult to have a fully staffed kitchen, Halvorson added.

Graeme Jones, kitchen manager at Mr. Mikes, said he doesn’t know how many staff members to bring back to work since it’s unclear how busy they will be.

He faces the same issue with how much food the restaurant should order, which is why delaying the reopen date was important.

“Half of [the staff] are still in that phase where they’re skeptical to leave their own houses,” Jones said, but he added that they all look forward to a return to work.

He said it would be hard for front-of-house staff to deal with the different mindsets of customers around the pandemic. Jones said the preliminary issue of why the reopen date is delayed is the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus that could potentially shut down the restaurant again and damage the business more.

“Hopefully by [June] 15, for dine-in, they’ve cut back on some of the restrictions because I just find it makes for a really uncomfortable dining experience,” Jones added.

Jones is watching how other restaurants in Hinton handle reopening in the hopes of doing it right when they open their own doors. He added that people should be reminded to support locally, even if it is a big name, since some are locally owned, like Mr. Mikes.

“At the same time I want people to remember to go to Opa’s, the small places like that in town. Keep in mind that those are those people’s livelihoods, their incomes, and their businesses too,” Jones said.

The Hen House Textile Co. in Hinton, which sells everything from fabrics to needles and yarn, has also learned to adapt and delayed a full reopening of their store, said Gerry Cherman, one of the store owners. While they decided to reopen on limited hours and take online and phone orders, customers can stop by only by appointment in an attempt to avoid too many people in the store at once. The Hen House is also attempting to restock their products through their suppliers, which are delayed due to the pandemic.

“We ran out of elastic. We sold almost 300 metres of elastic. And that we can’t get any more of and we’re still getting requests,” said Cherman.

The lack of sales has been rough on them too, but slowly some orders are trickling in.

Cherman said elastic only costs about $1.30 per metre, which doesn’t add up to much even though it flew off the shelves with many people making their own face masks at home.

Another big reason for the changes and delay to reopen is due to a lot of their clientele being seniors, Cherman added.

“We’re making sure that we have everything well organized for them when they come in,” Cherman said 

Specific appointments for customers every half hour have helped in sanitizing everything before someone else comes in. While Hinton has been fortunate with a low number of COVID-19 cases, Cherman remains cautious.

“The majority of our customers are older. Myself, I am a senior, I’m over 70. You do think twice about it,” she said.

Museums were included as part of phase one of the relaunch strategy as well, but the Northern Rockies Museum of Culture & Heritage in Hinton won’t be fully opening until more restrictions are lifted. Madison Sharman, manager at the museum, said there was some panic when they first heard they could reopen, due to the mountain of work to get the museum up to par with the Alberta Museum Association standards. 

“They are just a guide for the museums but they are the gold standard, you want to make sure you follow what they are recommending,” Sharman said.

Recommendations from the Alberta Museum Association came out after May 14 when businesses were allowed to reopen again. Sharman added that there wasn’t a lot of guidance from the province for museums, and some directions were confusing.

Without the space to facilitate proper distancing, the Northern Rockies Museum remains closed.

“Our experience is so hands on and personal here, so much of what makes this place great will be lost trying to give a haphazard pseudo tour,” Sharman said.

Tours wouldn’t be possible right now, since the distancing restrictions only allow one person in a room. One of the recommendations included having separate entrance and exit ways for visitors and employees, which the Northern Rockies Museum doesn’t have.

Most of the museum’s revenue streams are also lost. Normally, the museum would be welcoming school tours, tourists from the highway, and special events.

“In the winter time it’s mostly locals, but in the summertime it’s 90 per cent people travelling and birthday parties. They’re all things that we can’t make happen right now,” Sharman said.

For now, the Northern Rockies Museum is waiting for more restrictions to be lifted before they consider fully reopening.

“Right now we do not have space to accommodate what they require and we can’t provide a meaningful experience,” Sharman said.

Looking at alternatives, there are plans in the works to host tours and facilitate activities outside the building. The museum is still offering online programs, which they started as soon as they were ordered to close in March.

A six week online program called Quarantrain provided packages and educational classes three times each week for ages six to twelve. Since that program has ended, it has transitioned into other online education content like the Learning Railway. All which can be found on their website.

Around The Rink: Dec. 26

Gabe Roberts of the Hinton OK Tire Hellcats fends off a Devon Drillers defender during a Dec. 13 league game at Bill Thomson Arena. Hinton won 3-2 as part of a three-win weekend.
Masha Scheele Photo

Tyler Waugh

Battle River Bests Midgets

Battle River broke open a 4-3 game on Dec. 15 with a pair of late goals to earn a win and a weekend sweep of the Hinton midget hockey squad.

Zachary Jones had a pair of goals for Hinton and Ethan Bambrick had the other goal.  Lucas Descheneau, Ethan Jahnke and Landon Descheneau all had one assist each for Hinton and Riley Mills made 22 stops in net.

Hinton dropped a 5-1 decision to Battle River the day before, with Clint Clark scoring the home team’s lone goal with assists to Cole Whitford and Landon Descheneau. Hunter French made 23 stops in net.

Bantams Split Games

The Hinton Minich Oilfield bantam 1 hockey squad had three-point games from Kale Hunt, Keegan Fellows and Kayden Hollett in an 8-4 win on Dec. 14. 

Ryland Chabot chipped in a goal and an assist and Rylan Koch, Ethan Ramsey, Carter French and Nathan Burkart had one goal each. Ethan Mcpherson had two assists and Noah Coss, Landon Legary, Owen Tredwin and Bryce Donkin had one assist each. Riley Clark made 18 saves.

Hinton lost 6-4 the day before in Athabasca, with Hollett notching a pair of goals, and Burkart and Hunt counting one goal each. Fellows had a pair of assists and Legary and Donkin had one assist each. Gavin Gomuwka made 24 stops in net.

Hellcats Take Three

The Hinton OK Tire Hellcats swept a weekend tripleheader to take spot in their league. 

Hinton opened a 3-0 lead on Devon on Dec. 13 and then held on for a 3-2 win. Morley Ross, Blake Robertson and Keegan Plante had one goal each for Hinton, while  Coral Thompson, Thomas Mumby and Ari Beauchamp had one assist each and Ethan Spalek had a strong game in net with 28 stops.

Hinton capped of a comeback the next day against Athabasca with a Joshua Hearsey breakaway goal to earn a 5-4 win.

Mumby added a pair of power play goals and two assists for Hinton, while Gavin Kilthau and Beauchamp also scored. Jaeger Rivette also had a pair of assists, while Tori Thompson and Gabe Roberts had one assist each.

Hinton closed out the weekend with a 5-1 win over Edson that saw Plante lead the way with two goals while Ross had one goal and one assist. Hearsey and Robertson had one goal each. Spalek made 11 stops.

Gladiators Win

The Hinton Gus’s Pizza Gladiators peewee hockey team scored three straight goals to earn a 5-3 win over Westlock on Dec. 14.

Morgan Thomas scored the winner later in the third period and then notched his second of the game into an empty net to clinch it. 

Tye Fellows had a goal and an assist in the win and Marek Lehoux had two assists. Ryder Kulbacki and Corbyn Donkin had the other Hinton goals while Cohen Potts, Luke Hore and Grady Hollingsworth had one assist each. Aizik Gomuwka made 23 stops in net.

Warriors Drop Close Game

The Hinton McDonald’s Warriors atom hockey squad built a 3-1 lead on goals by Ryker Hollingsworth, Cohen Moulun and Deacon Barnes, but gave up three goals to Whitecourt in the third period in a 4-3 loss. Nolan Bardarson, Brandt Callihoo, Lucas Robertson and Hollingsworth had one assist each.

Brayden Benson and Treyton Matheson split time in net and made 14 saves between them.

Night Hawks Beat Mayerthorpe

Forrest Kilthau scored four goals to lead the Hinton McDonald’s Night Hawks to a 5-2 win over Mayerthorpe on Dec. 15.

Ty Kapatch had the other Hinton goal, Jack Richards had two assists and Kai Brettner added one assist of his own. Brayden Daniels and Rogue Smith split time in net and made 24 saves.

Impact Take Two

The Hinton Impact U14 ringette squad earned a pair of wins over Fort McMurray on Dec. 14.

Hinton had goals from four different players – Addison Klaver, Danica Hills, Meghan Gallagher and Paityn Best – in a 4-3 win to open the day. Leah Cournoyer had two assists and Ayla Goupil and Makena Hills had one assist each.

The second game was more of a runaway as Maggie Kempin, Logan Sweet and Best had two goals apiece in an 8-2 win. Hills and Gallagher had the other Hinton goals, Dakota Bishop had two assists and Klaver and Ashlyn McDougall had one assist each.

No easy fix for 2019 tax surplus

Masha Scheele

After lengthy discussion between town council and administration, a final decision on the 2019 unanticipated property tax revenue due to reassessments has been set for the next regular meeting of council.

Administration recommended the total of approximately $510,870 be put into the operational reserve and be brought forward in the 2020 town budget, which would reduce the amount of tax needed in 2020.

The unanticipated revenue was collected due to the large number of property tax reassessments that took place in 2018 coupled with an overall increase in assessment values of approximately four per cent.

The original budgeted tax revenue for 2019 is $13,198,722.

“Just to be clear, there is always unanticipated property tax revenue that happens every year. We never estimate the exact amount, we try to guess in ranges of $50,000 to $60,000 and put that in the budget,” said Carla Fox, director of corporate services.

Coun. Ryan Maguhn voiced  concern over carrying forward the $510,870 into subsequent budgets which would add up to one million dollars in tax revenue over two years.

He added that the money should be divided among taxpayers and given back.

Fox clarified that putting the money into reserves and bringing it forward into the revenues for 2020 would not change the bottom line from what was originally passed in 2019. The $510,870 collected this year would not be collected again going forward.

“It would reduce all the mill rates and give everybody a reduction in the tax required to maintain that budget as anticipated,” she said.

She added that giving money back to taxpayers isn’t a simple solution because the money was collected from people who hadn’t been paying at the correct assessed market value for up to five years. The perspective could be that other residents were subsidizing taxation for the people who weren’t reassessed in those years, she explained.

Coun. Albert Ostashek said he felt the most fair way to treat this unanticipated revenue would be to give it back, but he did not agree with an across-the-board refund to every rate payer.

“There were changes in assessments where people’s assessed property values actually went down,” he said.

Fox said that figuring out which taxpayers were most affected by the property value reassessments would take a lot of time.

“The appeals are there to determine whether the reassessments were fair or not. If the assessments are fair, then the best way to treat the refund is to reduce the mill rate across the board,” she said.

If the reassessments are legitimate, the tax rate would be reduced for all residents, she added.

There are several appeals still in progress, which means the exact amount of unanticipated revenue is not yet known.

Coun. Dewly Nelson stated that he would like the money to be placed in a dedicated reserve to start 2020 as a normal year without an extra taxation already in the operating budget.

When the 2020 budget discussions begin, numbers will be based on the 2019 budget passed by council and not the extra revenue collected, administration clarified.

Ostashek pointed out that using the $510,870 surplus to offset the tax increase in 2020 would lower the mill rate. That would lead to a jump up in 2021 when there is no extra money available.

To avoid the fluctuating mill rate, Ostashek stated that putting the money in a reserve would be the best option.

Mayor Marcel Michaels brought up the idea of putting a policy in place to ensure this situation won’t occur again in the future.

Property Tax Assessments are calculated annually, using a “market value standard,” according to the Municipal Government Act (MGA). An assessment is divided by its sales price, which creates an assessment to sales ratio and can be applied to other, similar properties.

Home sales of like homes help re-adjust assessments to keep them accurate to actual value on the market. Property assessment values from 2018 were used to calculate the anticipated property taxation revenue for this year.