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  • Caylie Gnyra

March 19 Town Council


Following the call to order and the adoption of the agenda and previous meeting’s minutes, Council entered a closed session regarding a legal contract, pursuant to Part 1, Division 2, Section 16 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

After the completion of the closed session, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Kevin Lucas proposed that Council for the Town of Vermilion give second and third reading to 3.2024 Remote Attendance Bylaw to address Section 199 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA). The proposed bylaw regulates the attendance of council meetings by electronic means. External microphones and headsets are excluded, and if required, will be the responsibility of the user to ensure no cost to the Town.

Council extensively discussed whether remote participation could be used for in-camera meetings or other meetings where confidential or sensitive information is discussed. Confusion over the specifics in the MGA prompted Council to go forward with their approval of the second reading of the bylaw, with the exception of an amendment to Section 3, 3.3 to allow elected officials to participate in in-camera sessions remotely, which will be sent to the Town’s legal department to review prior to the bylaw’s third reading.

Mike van der Torre, Director of Community Services, then recommended that Council give first reading to 4.2024 Urban Laying Hens Bylaw, colloquially known as “the chicken bylaw.” Key prohibitions include the banning of roosters and the requirement that hens kept must be licensed Urban Laying Hens. To obtain an Urban Laying Hen License, an applicant must submit a form, pay a fee, and meet specific eligibility criteria, including property ownership and residency. The Town of Vermilion limits the number of licenses issued based on the population, with a ratio of one license per one hundred persons. Criteria for refusal or renewal of a license include non-compliance with the bylaw, provision of false information, failure to pay fines or fees, or general public interest concerns. Licenses are valid for a calendar year, are non-transferable, and must be produced upon request by the Town or a Peace Officer.

Council clarified that up to four laying hens per residence could be kept for a fee of $28 each, and that one license per location is the maximum permitted, meaning places like the lodge would only be eligible for one license covering up to four hens. Additionally, the requirement to hold a premise ID is a first step in allowing for owners to obtain medication for their hens. A concern was voiced about whether neighbours’ approval would be required to keep hens, and while the bylaw currently does not have that requirement, neighbours’ complaints could be addressed through the nuisance bylaw. The first reading of the Urban Laying Hens bylaw was approved with an amendment to ensure it is reviewed each year to incorporate feedback from the community, and now the town is interested in getting the public’s feedback on the bylaw before it moves on to its second and third readings. To share thoughts, ideas, and concerns, contact the Town Office at 780-853-5358. The bylaw is available for viewing on the Town of Vermilion website in the link under section 5.4 at https://vermilion.civicweb.net/filepro/documents/139116/?preview=139855

Given the ratio of one license per 100 persons in a community of just over 4,100 people, Council expects that the approximately 41 licenses available will be snapped up quickly as soon as they are available. “We do know that there are a few rogue chicken houses out there, so it should fill up in good time,” said Mayor Greg Throndson.

There was no public commentary at this meeting.

CAO Lucas recommended that Council approve a change in wage for a paid on-call firefighter increase from $29.82 per hour to $30.79 per hour retroactive to January 21, 2024, as proposed by Vermilion Fire Chief Anton Krys to reflect the wages paid by the County of Vermilion River to county firefighters and avoid disparity in the field. Several councillors who also serve on the fire department had to abstain from the vote. Council approved the change.

Council then discussed the sidewalk issues downtown and throughout the community. Having toured the town on foot to survey the situation, Mayor Throndson provided a meticulously detailed list of the spots around town that are hazardous. Council recognizes the sidewalks’ state of disrepair is a hazard to residents, particularly those with mobility issues, and are a potential liability to the Town. Shovelling snow on these bricks is notoriously difficult, and they become very slippery in the winter. “We’re not serving our residents if we’re not fixing these problems,” said Councillor Robert Snow. “It is our responsibility. What’s our liability if someone uses these sidewalks and hurts themselves? We’ve got to do this for our residents. We need to put something in. Council as a whole should go down and do a little field trip because it blew me away how degraded it is.”

The bricks that make up the sidewalks are said to have a 25-year life expectancy, but these are in a serious state of degradation after only 16 years. Council had spoken about a pilot project last year to review some of the bricks and temporarily replace them with concrete, but difficulty finding a cement contractor before freeze-up pushed the project back and they were unable to do it. They are hoping to find a contractor sooner this season.

The state of the Town’s Designated Supported Living Level 4 (SL4) plans prompted some serious discussion amongst Council. Although Vermilion has been listed as third in priority for the province to receive an SL4 facility, a grant proposal that the Town had submitted to the province for funding was turned down because, in the exact words of the government, “You guys have no skin in the game, so you don’t get the grant. The communities that got it put money into it.” Vermilion had proposed covering 10% of the cost, but the government recommended the town and the county covering 30% and asking the province for the remaining 70%.

The Town of Vermilion has no funds at all set aside for an SL4 facility, but councillors recognize how important it is to start coming up with a plan to obtain SL4 suites, either through an upgrade to the lodge or through a new build, as soon as possible. “Most of us will either be in a facility like that, or will have someone we love in a facility like that,” said one councillor.

In the previous build for the Vermilion Valley Lodge, designated as an SL3 facility, the town and the county both put in money for the cause. An ongoing partnership and meaningful investment will be essential for funding an SL4 project, as will recognizing that residents of both the town and the county will benefit from having this facility close to home. “We have to work together and the conversation has to start now,” said one member of Council.

One proposal was to try to grandfather the 14–16 SL3 pods that are commonly empty into SL4 designations. Bureaucracy has stalled that approach, with provincial requirements slipping and shifting at every turn. Councillor Robert Pulyk said, “We should all be in an uproar and pounding on the table with this information.” He questions being accused of not having skin in the game, saying, “How do you build a business plan for a housing foundation when you don’t know where the government is going to be? How much skin in the game do they need? We should be able to get that information.” He urges members of the public to pick up their pens, open up their emails, and contact their MLA to let the provincial government know that this is a priority that is being neglected. “We need to hold our MLAs and our ministers and our premier accountable. It’s an AHS facility—they need to have skin in the game,” said Pulyk.

Regarding snow removal, Council thanked snow removal workers for their excellent work, and reminded the public that as per policy, no residential areas were cleared. Public routes that were not cleared had not met the 8-inch snowpack criteria for clearing. The extra time available to workers due to the light snowfall in the first half of the winter has ensured that everything in the shop is ready to go for spring.

Council is eager to share that a new doctor will be here within the next two weeks, with four doctors coming in over the next six months. Additionally, an anesthesiologist will be coming around May or June.

CAO Lucas reported that, along with Lakeland College, the Town has received a Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) grant to obtain new tiles for the community’s swimming pool. He also shared “the good news of the year: the goats are coming back!” Yellowhead Grazing will be bringing 70 kids along with a new dog in training to help reduce invasive weed species and fire hazards, particularly in rough terrain.

Director of Community Services Mike van der Torre reported that there have been issues with the Vermilion Regional Centre’s sound system, noting that it was not just that the system is failing, but that the technology is further along than the system can even accommodate, and it needs new upgrades.

Regarding the garbage truck involved in a fire a few months back, Council reported that they are still waiting to hear back from insurance, but that the rental has arrived and should be up and running within the next few days.

The LiveBarn broadcasting system for local games at the Stadium has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. Although a small bit of netting currently obscures some of the view, Council promises that issue will be dealt with shortly.

Council wanted to highlight the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program running out of the library until the end of April. The program is a drop-off system where individuals pick up a package to determine eligibility then drop off their information at the library, where volunteers complete the tax forms. For further information, contact the library at 780-853-4288.

Council also reported on the work of Lakeland College researcher Dr. Nicole Nadorozny, who is examining the patterns of beavers’ use of the terrestrial landscape and ways that we can incorporate them into our shared environment while minimizing the damage they wreak.

Manager Economic Development Mary Lee Prior announced the Town of Vermilion has been successful in receiving the Northern and Regional Economic Development (NRED) program grant for the “Pylon Sign Project” for up to $56,490.

Councillor Pulyk implored all Albertans to participate in the Refocusing Health Care in Alberta survey at Alberta.ca/healthcare

Councillor Kirby Whitlock highlighted the Race of Vermilion and extended gratitude to organizer Paige Jaremco as well as to all the volunteers who were involved in making the day such a huge success.

Many councillors spoke of attending the Mayor’s Breakfast at the United Church, all with glowing reviews.

Councillor Whitlock reminded the public of one of the most-loved events of Vermilion’s year: the upcoming Rotary Garage Sale running April 18–20 at the curling rink. Donations will be accepted April 11 and 12 from 5–8 p.m. and on Saturday, April 13 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pickups can be arranged by calling or texting Bernie Webb at 780-853-7121 or Scott Webb at 780-853-7282. Please have your items “sale ready,” and note that the sale does not accept entertainment centres, televisions, or clothing.

Council also extended congratulations and best wishes to the Junior B Tigers, who are currently in league playoffs.

As the public portion of the meeting wound down, a letter to Council from Dr. Joel Kroeker, endoscopist at the Vermilion Health Centre, attested to the value of the Vermilion airport for emergency medical transfers as well as for his own commute into the community. He urged Council to “keep this asset, it is a literal gateway of opportunity for you.”

Thanks to everyone who stuck around to the end of this 2,000-word tome, and please remember that you can listen in to town council from the comfort of your own home by registering for their Zoom broadcasts at https://www.vermilion.ca/en/your-government/council-livestream.aspx Council meets the first and third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers at the Town Hall.

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