Wide array of topics in RM of Prince Albert virtual forum

RM of PA council candidates speak at a forum hosted by Nigel Maxwell, top left. RM of PA council candidates speak at a forum hosted by Nigel Maxwell, top left./Screen capture/Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce

Candidates for reeve and councillor in Division 3 and Division 5 took their case to the people as the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual forum for the Rural Municipality of Prince Albert on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Division 1 councillor Michael Grassick has been elected by acclamation.

Reeve candidate Eric Schmalz, Division 3 incumbent Barton Franc, challengers in Division 3 Guy St. Hillaire and Allan Novotny and division 5 candidate Colin Sheldon took part in the forum.

Reeve candidate Wayne Acorn and the other division 5 candidate, Debbie Acorn, declined the invitation from the Chamber. Acorn is the current division 5 councillor and has vacated his seat to challenge Schmalz.

Schmalz was elected in a by-election last year. In a question about COID-19 and municipalities, Schmalz explained that the RM has received funding from the province and used it to extend their tax discount through the end of the year.

The unsightly properties bylaw in the RM is still in progress. When asked about the bylaw, Schmalz emphasized working with residents. Unsightly properties are typically reported by residents and the municipality gives leeway to bring the property back up to standards. It is being updated to be clear and concise.

When asked about the Prince Albert Regional Economic Development Alliance (PAREDA) Schmalz explained that there were items on the horizon that could not be discussed.

Schmalz said there was a little jealousy that the RM of Buckland is seeing some development, but they were happy to see developments. Schmalz said he would be open to exploring tax incentives or tax write-offs as ideas to attract business to the RM.

In his one-minute closing summary, Schmalz reminded people of mail-in ballots, which was one of his accomplishments as Reeve.

The councillor candidates were combined into one group with Franc, Novotny, St. Hillaire and Sheldon all taking questions on a number of topics.

When asked what their top issues would be, there was agreement between St. Hillaire and Novotny that everybody has similar issues in the RM. St. Hillaire mentioned crime prevention and roads. Novotny’s other issues included items such as keeping taxes reasonable; he thought the tax discount extension was a benefit.

Franc explained that road and taxes and keeping taxes affordable were his top issues. Sheldon’s number one issue was also roads and taxes and ensuring that decisions are made with ratepayers in mind.

The second question related to an Agricultural Producers of Saskatchewan (APAS) task force looking into rural connectivity. Ironically, during the forum, Franc experienced numerous Wi-Fi issues. A few candidates brought up the new cell tower going up in the RM on Franc’s property. The APAS task force is running until January 2021.

On a question around rural crime, Sheldon said he had attended  Rural Crime Watch meetings. He and other candidates viewed the organizations as a positive step.  Novotny said he would look into hiring bylaw officers and working in conjunction with local crime watch Facebook groups.

The issue of transparency and communication in the RM saw candidates point to improvements in that area recently through an updated webpage and Facebook page and other initiatives in progress. Franc pointed to the newsletter that is sent with tax notices. St. Hillaire liked that minutes to meetings are now available on the web page but added that there is always room for improvement. St. Hillaire noted that council is accessible.

On a question around attracting industry to the RM, St. Hillaire noted that the current work being done is positive but there needs to be a line drawn between residential and commercial. Novotny noted that paving the service road on Highway 2 has helped. One possibility was lower taxes to attract businesses to move from the city. Sheldon observed that the RM of Prince Albert has an advantage being adjacent to a city. Franc discussed tax incentives and how road upkeep is a benefit.

Beaver control was another issue discussed. Many candidates noted that problems in their area included waterways becoming dammed up and trees falling in properties. The current bounty system sees trappers earning money from beaver tails with the RM paying $15 and SARM paying $15. Suggestions included increasing the bounty and creating incentives to attract more trappers. Novotny suggested using the RM webpage to list trapper contacts and put people in touch with trappers.

To watch the full forum, visit the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce Facebook or YouTube pages.

The 2020 municipal election is on Nov. 9.