St. Paul’s most recent telephone town hall meeting saw town council discuss the strategic plan document which is meant to guide decisions over the next five years. The plan was developed over the course of 2020 by town council as well as administration and community stakeholders.
According to Mayor Maureen Miller, the plan is divided into six pillars, each with a number of key initaitives: economic vitality, health and safety, organizational excellence, environmental stewardship, infrastructure, and relationships.
The economic vitality pillar is focused on employment, business, services, and tourism.
Miller said while there is a great deal of focus on employment, they don’t plan to expand the number of town staff.
“Our goal is to encourage existing business development, as well as new businesses. All of this combined will hopefully result in new jobs,” said Miller, noting the town plans to continue to support local businesses and work with the Chamber of Commerce. She said they’ve also tried to eliminate as much red tape as possible to make it easy to create new businesses.
Key initiatives include promoting the town as an experiential tourism hub, supporting business engagement, repurposing available space, and preparing for more technology-based businesses.
Penny Fox with Community Futures, who is also involved in the Regional Tourism Initiative Committee said she was very pleased tourism was included in the pillar.
“As we move forward in a COVID environment, at least for the next little while. I think that there are opportunities that we as a region can be taking on because we are starting to see more people travel out of the cities to our safer and beautiful areas like St. Paul,” said Fox.
She also expressed support for the business welcome kit suggested in the plan as a way of engaging and promoting business connectivity.
A caller named ‘Hayley’ who did not wish to go live asked what the town meant by repurposing space.
According to Miller, there are a number of large spaces in the community which may not all be relevant and the town is trying to be forward thinking by including it in their strategic plan.
Coun. Nathan Taylor said repurposing space is an area where a lot is already happening behind the scenes. “We’re working with the opportunities of entrepreneurs that are coming to town to fill in potential spaces,” said Taylor. He said future economic development can work towards more use of the existing spaces as well.
Health and Safety
The health and safety pillar focuses on the sense of welcome to the community, accessibility, finding the right balance of proactive and reactive community safety initiatives, and working to recruit doctors.
According to Coun. Brad Eamon, the town is involved in a regional physician recruitment group.
“So we are offering short term housing. Our mayor also works very closely with AHS, to help with potential new doctors to show them around the community and make them feel as welcome as possible,” he said.
“With that recruitment group going on in the work that they’re doing, it helps get the new doctors that we’re trying to attract up on their feet and get them going as fast as they can and, and try to get them involved in our community and get the practices running as smooth as we can,” said Eamon.
Mayor Miller noted that the committee was successful in attracting two psychiatrists to St. Paul in 2020 who arrived just before the pandemic began in March. She said they’ve also added a general physician with an obstetrics specialization. A surgeon is confirmed to be arriving in February, and another general physician is expected to arrive in the spring.
The news of more doctors coming is especially welcome given threats to quit made by anesthesiologists and general practitioners earlier this year.
According to the strategic plan document, organizational excellence means “to integrate best practices for responsible fiscal management, open and accountable government, and professional and efficient service.
The key initiatives suggested are to formalize a three-year operational planning schedule and five-year capital planning schedule; consistent application of legislation and policy particularly with land development; improving information sharing between departments and with regional partners; and increasing transparency.
According to Coun. Norm Noel, the three-year operational plan currently shows little or no tax increase in the coming years.
“We have tried to budget concerns conservatively reflecting the current economic times. However, there’s so many unknowns over the next few years. Things we have no control over, such as operating grants and policing and education costs will remain fairly constant. And if those remain constant, then we should be able to hold our capacity,” said Noel.
Asked what steps the town is taking to ensure fiscal responsibility, Noel said the biggest thing is producing a balanced budget and prioritizing repairs.
The key initiatives in the environmental stewardship pillar are to decrease the volume of organic matter going to the landfill; decrease community energy usage; and to formalize an asbestos and lead remediation program.
Coun. Nathan Taylor said while cutting energy consumption as a municipality also allows them to save money on their heating and transportation costs, “fundamentally, we need to do our part to reduce energy, so that we can also reduce carbon emissions.”
A question read by the moderator was about the desire to decrease the volume of organic matter and how it fit with the new wastebin program being rolled out in the spring.
“Because of the work that was done, at the last community phone in around waste; we’ve gathered more information from industry, addressing some of the very specific concerns that the residents have. And so from the messages we’re hearing, we’re making changes and recommendations and improving what we’re planning to do,” said Taylor.
According to Coun. Ron Boisvert, infrastructure includes the water and sewer lines, roads, sidewalks, back alleys and fire hydrants. Much of it is aging, and much of it is underground.
“Our first priority will be to maintain what we already have. We still have infrastructure in the ground and due to age and condition needs to be replaced,” said Boisvert.
Asked how the town will know which projects are going to be taking place, Boisvert said the capital spending plan for 2021 will be finalized once the grant allocations from the province are confirmed.
“The final budget shows the confirmed projects for 2021. The five year capital budget will also show what council hopes to complete over the next five years. As far as how the residents know, Public Works usually indicates on both our website and town talk as to whether projects will be for 2021.
Mayor Miller noted one major project on the books for 2021 is 57 Street, which has been on the to-do list for about 10 years.
“The municipal stimulus plan that came into effect for us to get that funding has been a true gift to our community. And we will work with the county on that,” said Miller.
Specifically, this pillar is referring to the relationships with indigenous and neighbouring communities, the provincial government and provincial associations.
According to Mayor Miller, the town has been working very hard to establish relationships with the indigenous communities of the region over the past three years.
“Through relationships and through celebration, we have raised the both the Treaty Six and the Métis flag, which is very prominently positioned right as our town entrance to encourage the conversation as to the history within our community and the respect of both of those communities around us for sure,” she said.
“But the initiative is for all of us to understand our history, and the pain that our community has come through to engage in healing. So we’ve done a lot of work, and it’s just in its infancy stages, as far as I can see what all can be done, but it’s definitely important to all of our council,” said Miller.