Mayor Greg Throndson sat down with The Vermilion Voice to review key successes over the past year, projects in progress, and challenges on the horizon. He reflected that the current Council’s first two years were a learning curve for everyone as they carried on the work of the previous Council, but are now starting to see growth and confidence as they carry out projects of their own initiative, and hope to increase communication to the public about that work.
Highlights over the past year included completing the Primus fibre optic dig and associated yard cleanups, having the community recognized by the Oilers Entertainment Group in their Celebrating Oil Country promotion, and making great progress with the Vermilion Lodge and seniors’ housing. Mayor Throndson is enthusiastic about the Primus network, identifying it as essential infrastructure for not only today but for years to come. He celebrated the enthusiasm reverberating throughout the community on Oilers Day, saying, “You couldn’t put a dollar value on that.” He expressed gratitude toward the staff, administration, and residents at the Vermilion Valley Lodge, saying, “The seniors are what built this community and deserve us giving back to them.”
Areas of focus over the coming year include continuing efforts to bring Designated Supportive Living Level 4 (SL4) to the community, increasing communication to residents, selling residential and industrial lots, and maintaining strong partnerships and open communication with community groups.
Local MLA Garth Rowswell has been in talks with the board and administration of the Vermilion Valley Lodge and the Town of Vermilion about the importance of keeping married seniors together as their care needs increase, and the group will continue to advocate to the government and Alberta Health Services for a commitment regarding an SL4 care program in Vermilion.
Council remains committed to increasing communication to the residents of Vermilion—for example, for expenses, community events, and garbage days changing—and enthusiastically welcomes ideas on ways to increase the reach of their communications. Council meetings, held the first and third Tuesday of every month, are now available to be watched live on Zoom, and can be attended digitally by registering at https://www.vermilion.ca/en/your-government/council-livestream.aspx
Council anticipates 8–10 new house lots coming available in Brennan North this summer. They have also been starting to see sales in industrial lots, which has been one of Council’s priorities as new businesses generate taxes and bring people to town.
Key challenges for the coming year are budgetary items over which Council has no control. First is the replacement of the main trunk line running from the water treatment plant to the west end of town. Over six decades old, the trunk line already experienced a break in 2019 and needs to be replaced. This will come at a cost of $7 million over the next five years. However, doing so is critical in opening up housing development in Brennan North, as well as ensuring Vermilion continues to have an adequate and reliable sewer system.
As a result of building a new sewer treatment plant and the environmental codes surrounding the project, the Town is responsible for removing the old sewer building—which contains asbestos—this year. The cost to do so will be approximately $250,000–$400,000.
The Town is also facing a significant increase in the cost of policing as the result of a provincial policing agreement made in 2020 between the provincial and federal governments. This agreement transfers more financial responsibility for policing to municipalities, increasing on a yearly basis. In 2023, the Town of Vermilion’s portion for local policing jumped from $170,000 to $260,000. To put this into perspective, every $60,000 expense acquired by the Town results in a 1% tax increase.
Additionally, the Municipalities Sustainability Initiative funded by the provincial government dropped from $1.1 million in previous years to $472,000 in 2023. A portion of the difference will be reclaimed in 2024 through the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) grant, but the Town will nevertheless be operating on a lower dollar value than recent years.
At the same time, the Town incurs inflation, added fuel and heat costs as well as the cost-of-living wages, wear and tear, and depreciation of machinery, all adding to costs in the municipal budget. However, Mayor Throndson encourages the public to see these as investments in the town: for example, the Town replaced its 16-year-old Zamboni machine with an electric Zamboni through the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre. This machine is in operation seven days a week for seven months each year, drawing hockey and figure skating families into the community, where they spend money on gas, food, lodging, and shopping, all as an indirect effect of having a reliable Zamboni.
At the end of the day, Mayor Throndson says, all of these decisions are group decisions: Council as a whole works with administration on a daily basis in terms of where the Town is going and what it can do. Partnerships and open communication with community groups are essential, particularly with the Legion, the Agricultural Society, the Elks, the Rotary Club, and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as with the County of Vermilion River. “We have that and will maintain that because everyone benefits from it,” says Throndson.