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This message is our way of giving folks an update on our happenings throughout the last year. It's an opportunity to provide context behind important Council decisions, regional matters, and events.

Well, 2023 was a year like no other for Lac Ste. Anne County! In bidding farewell to the past year, it is with wonder that I reflect on the emotional journey we've shared as a community in 2023. The past twelve months have brought challenges and triumphs, fostering a spirit of resiliency and unity that defines the heart of Lac Ste. Anne County residents, staff, and Council.

Taxation

From 2020 to 2022, Lac Ste. Anne County implemented the bare minimum of tax rate increases. There was just so much going on in the world around us — COVID-19, supply issues, job losses, and more — so the County worked hard to lessen hardships within our community. Looking back from a social perspective, it was a good idea; financially, it may not have been the best.

Last spring, Council faced the tough decision of a tax rate increase of 5.56 per cent. This was met with great public pushback. You were right, and we were listening! Small increases aligned with inflation rates lessens the impact on our ratepayers while maintaining current programs and services expected by the community. That is what our 2024 Budget will reflect.

Inflation continues to impact the lives of every resident in Lac Ste. Anne County. With rising housing, utilities, and food costs, it is no secret that 2023 was a financial challenge and that County operations were not exempt from it. 2023 closed with a yearly inflation rate of 3 per cent. While this is a decrease from the 6 per cent in 2022, the County continues to feel the inflationary effects.

Public Safety and Resilience

Mother nature was hard on us this past year with fires, flooding, and drought. We experienced it all! In the face of unprecedented wildfires, our community demonstrated unwavering resilience. County Fire Services strove to prevent loss of life and minimize damage to property and infrastructure. I'm proud of the County's reaction in the face of disaster — from administration and staff, to the entire Fire Services team and our residents. Together we faced the challenge with determination and efficiency, proving that strength lies in teamwork.

Mutual aid from neighbouring municipalities' fire services contributed largely to our response. This allowed us to work more effectively and efficiently; ultimately keeping the community safer.

Thanks to the cooperation and respect exhibited by our residents, we navigated through these challenging times with a shared commitment to adapt and increase resilience to wildfire. 

Business and Development Growth

Again, this past year we've seen growth in development applications and permits. Land sales have continued in an upward trend. Local businesses seemed to adapt and thrive, showcasing the resilience of their entrepreneurial spirit. For proof, just visit ShoptheCounty.ca — it boasts over six hundred local businesses and is growing daily. And residents are supporting local like never before! So before you take a trip to the city, check it out to see if you can find what you're looking for closer to home.

Operations and Public Works

The County typically replaces three graders each year from a fleet of fifteen, ensuring that the equipment is replaced before we're faced with the burden of repairs beyond the warranty period. Each year, we compare whether to capitalize on a guaranteed buy-back program or sell them at auction. This year, the auction option brought us a better amount.

Since 2020, the price of heavy equipment has risen substantially. The greatest increase occurred between 2022 & 2023, when the County saw a 30 per cent increase in the cost of replacement graders for operations. Council moved to purchase three new graders totalling $1,940,400.00 ($646,800.00 per grader). This is expensive, yet vital to maintaining the County's gravel roads year-round.

Agricultural Services

Our committed Agricultural Service Board continues to promote and protect viable and sustainable agriculture practices throughout the region. The County continues to partner with innovative farming initiatives like Farming Forward (formerly the West Central Forage Association), the ALUS Program, and Gateway Research Organization.

We also vehemently advocated for local farmers by lobbying the government to add our municipality to the 2023 Canada-Alberta Drought Livestock Assistance initiative.

Administration Building Lawsuit Settlement

Council voted to take the $8.45 million offer to settle its lawsuit against companies involved in the design, engineering, project management, and construction of the County Administration Building. This dollar amount was recommended by the mediator and our legal counsel advised we accept.

By accepting the settlement we've alleviated further costs associated with a prolonged legal process, not to mention the uncertainty of the outcome.

We're investing the funds in a secure growth savings account and it will remain there until Council evaluates our options regarding the future of the Administration Building. No plans have been made to rebuild at this time. Council is content to stay in this facility for the foreseeable future. That said, our Infrastructure department closely monitors and inspects the building to ensure it remains safe for staff and the public.

This Council assures you that direct public consultation will take place in advance of future decision-making regarding the Administration Building.

Community Engagement

While my fellow Councillors and I attended many functions from local family celebrations to municipal initiatives, we enjoyed meeting with people. Should you see us at an event, stop, introduce yourself, and tell us what's important to you. We like to hear from folks and we've learned that listening to our public is never a bad thing.

Looking Ahead

Stepping into this new year we can build on our achievements learn from our experiences and make the County an even better place to live, work, and play.

Thank you all for your support, comments, and ideas.

Sincerely,

Reeve Blakeman

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