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  • Caylie Gnyra

Town Council


Town Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, February 6 covered a lot of ground, from drought to backhoes to photo radar to urban chickens.

The evening began with a discussion of the town’s line of credit. Although there were no changes from last year’s limit, Alberta Treasury Branch requires the previous year’s bylaw to be rescinded and replaced with a new one annually. Director of Finance and Administration Brian Leibel proposed that Council replace Bylaw 1-2023 with Operating Line of Credit Borrowing Bylaw 1-2024. After three readings, the motion to approve the bylaw was carried. Further details and a link to the new bylaw can be found in the HTML version of Council’s agenda at https://vermilion.civicweb.net/filepro/documents/

During the public commentary portion of the meeting, a member of the public noted that he would like to see the Town start advertising the possibility that there may be water restrictions in the spring and summer in order to help residents make relevant seasonal plans. For example, the resident said he has a little backyard garden and doesn’t think he will plant anything this year, and wants to prepare the community for the possibility that rain may not provide adequate moisture for growing on small or large scales. This is in regard to the stage 4 drought that Alberta is currently in, recognizing the possibility outlined by Alberta’s Minister of Environment that a province-wide stage 5 drought and emergency measures could occur later this year.

Another member of the public suggested that the town could help residents out by purchasing a bulk order of rain barrels from local businesses that residents could then purchase at cost. The individual expressed frustration that he could not share his concerns with the Town’s Environment Committee because Vermilion no longer has one. As a self-proclaimed “rule follower,” he inquired about the Town’s policies for public participation and asked how members of the public could be meaningfully involved at the committee level. “We can’t be butting heads because we’re going to have to be living together for the next 20 years,” he said.

Council responded that the Environmental Committee had such poor public participation that it had been combined with the Town’s Parks, Recreation, and Culture committee, which all remaining members of the Environmental Committee had been invited to join. The next Parks, Recreation, and Culture meeting will take place on Monday, February 26 at 5:30 p.m. at the town office, and Council emphasized that members of the public are warmly welcomed to share their concerns there. Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Kevin Lucas also offered to follow up with the individual personally. Mayor Greg Throndson also mentioned that there is someone in the city selling dozens of rain barrels on Facebook right now, and a savvy citizen might consider taking the opportunity to meet the community’s need.

Council then discussed the replacement of the Town’s 2013 John Deere 410K backhoe and the scoring system that placed local CASE dealership Rocky Mountain Equipment’s proposal at the top of the list of potential vendors. With an initial budget of $240,000, the Town has arranged to purchase a 2024 CASE 590SN backhoe for $221,576.07, with the $45,000 trade-in value of the 2013 John Deere bringing the final price to $176,576.07. The new unit will come with an additional 2 years of warranty up to 4,000 hours, added in front fenders, an adapter to utilize existing attachments, and a replacement 36” grave bucket with teeth to replace a worn bucket.

Director of Infrastructure Ben McPhee provided a presentation on the Vermilion airport, highlighting current sources of income on the property such as an aviation fuel business, crop leasing, building leasing, and cattle grazing, as well as the potential for future development such as building additional rental hangars to augment the airport’s financial sustainability. Council requested information of local lease rates for hangars.

McPhee also noted that airport movement data collection is done by trail cameras, but the current camera has failed a few times in extreme cold snaps. This caused gaps in data, which resulted in fewer flights recorded than what actually occurred. It did, however, record about 350 flights in 2023. The camera is being replaced, and the winter data have been averaged to provide a more accurate reflection of airport use. Notably, the airport was used 26 times for medical evacuation (MedEvac) in 2023, and high summer usage was related to the agricultural industry.

Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Lucas made a request for Council’s decision regarding implementing photo radar. A report had previously been commissioned to determine the feasibility of implementing photo radar within the Town’s boundaries. A third-party contractor offered a “turn-key solution with no anticipated financial burden to the town,” but further inquiry found that, as a town of fewer than 5,000, Vermilion would be subject to special Ministerial approval from the Province of Alberta, which mandates that municipalities demonstrate that photo radar is intended for enhancing public safety rather than generating revenue. Given the logistical challenges of gathering data, coupled with equipment and operational costs, Council voted to not proceed with exploring photo radar for the Town of Vermilion at this point.

Council came out with puns blazing as they discussed urban hens, colloquially known as the “chicken bylaw.” CAO Kevin Lucas was asked to look into this and attests that what he had to share with Council was “just scratching the surface” of the information surrounding the topic. Director of Community Services Mike van der Torre has been influential in creating this new bylaw, which is surprisingly complex. Some of the unresolved issues include the location and procedure of the quarantine of diseased hens and the disposal of deceased hens. Furthermore, the Town seeks to reduce its liability while ensuring its bylaw is in compliance with the province and other relevant stakeholders. Ultimately, the Town wants to support those individuals interesting in keeping laying hens and doesn’t want to stifle the community with restrictions.

Council members clarified that the bylaw refers only to laying chickens and not other birds, noting that the Town still has in place an early bylaw allowing up to 75 pigeons per household. Reflecting on the headaches that might ensue mediating between neighbours in conflict over a 75-pigeon flock, Mayor Throndson jested, “I wouldn’t want to put anyone in a ‘fowl’ mood.” Council will seek to update the pigeon bylaw to a count that more reasonably reflects the realities of 2024.

During the Council round table, members expressed congratulations to the new businesses that had recently held ribbon-cutting ceremonies, highlighting with enthusiasm the success story of locally-grown lawyer Beaudon Rogers returning to his hometown of Vermilion to practice law with Lloydminster-based PSM Lawyers.

Several members spoke of the RCMP town hall held a few weeks prior, which was less well-attended than had been hoped but was highly informative and attentively engaged by those who were present. Council noted how lucky they felt to be living in the Town of Vermilion and expressed a desire to better support the police officers who provide service to the town.

Councillor Rayment enthusiastically shared about his most recent meeting with the Vermilion Public Library, which has already exceeded fundraising expectations for its new lift, having already secured over $89,000 for the project. “This will give so many people more access,” he said.

Mayor Throndson spoke of a last-minute meeting with local doctors and the importance of continuing these meetings as often as possible. He also mentioned the interview he had done on CBC Radio regarding last week’s water restrictions, and emphasized that residents need not panic as we are not currently in a water emergency. He assured residents that Council will start getting the word out to the town if springtime water restrictions are, in fact, looming on the horizon. To listen to the interview, visit https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-52-radio-active/clip/16039129-vermilion-coping-reduced-water-pressure

Council closed the public portion of the meeting by noting that Ben McPhee is moving on from his position with the Town, and the mayor expressed gratitude for McPhee’s perspective and everything he has done.

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