June'14 Newsletter

Councillor Steve Schafer

Steve Schafer: Town growth requires attention and planning

With less than a year into his first term on Town Council, Councillor Steve Schafer notes that it is too early to give a proper estimate of the average monthly time commitment required by councillors. For now, he is meeting the commitments as they present themselves and focusing on participating and contributing wherever he can.

“The time commitment is high,” says Steve. He’s been putting around 20-25 hours a month into his councillor responsibilities. “My priority is to do what I signed up and have been elected to do, to serve the community to the best of my ability.”

Athabasca is a community with a great deal of appeal and potential and as the north opens up, as many believe it will, foresight and planning must become a focus for all concerned parties in the town and the region.

“Our town is in a very beautiful and strategic location,” Steve explains. “It takes a lot of time and attention of many people to manage, care for, and plan for anticipated growth, especially in terms of population, services and amenities.”

A big part of that care and planning is facilitated by the numerous Committees of Council and occasional special meetings that Steve and his fellow councillors participate on in addition to their regular Town Council meetings. Currently, there are more than 20 different Committees of Council divided amongst the seven members of Council. Committees may meet monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly or on an as-needed basis.

Steve’s committees include Aspen Regional Water Services Commission, Greater North Foundation, Northern Lakes College, Municipal Planning Commission, Northern Lights Library System and he is an alternate for the Intermunicipal Development committee.

He notes that in addition to Council, committee and special meetings, councillors may also be called upon to meet with visiting dignitaries and representatives from various organizations or political parties. These meetings could serve purposes of public relations, program fact-finding and research, or to investigate opportunities for collaborative alliances.

A recent visit from Dr. Kelman Wieder, Biology Professor from Villanova University (Radnor Township, Pennsylvania), is one example. Dr. Wieder came to make a public presentation focusing on mosses, muskeg and peatlands; major features of northern Alberta.

“It was a tremendous opportunity to meet with Dr. Wieder,” says Steve. “The topic is highly relevant to our community and the region, and a number of groups are involved in or interested in it. Research papers have resulted from Dr. Wieder and his team members coming to our area.”

While establishing connections with, and gaining insight from, individuals and groups from outside of the community can be valuable, Steve highlights the importance of keeping a proper focus on local services and initiatives.

“All of the Committees of Council are important, every one of them,” he explains. “We wouldn’t have a committee for it if it wasn’t relevant to our community.”

Greater North Foundation

Pleasant Valley Lodge in Athabasca is one of the facilities 
for seniors managed by the Greater North Foundation

Steve offers the Greater North Foundation as an example of a beneficial local service that must be further developed to meet a growing demand.

“We are highly regarded for the quality of services provided by the Greater North Foundation. The Foundation manages more than 300 housing units in the communities of Athabasca, Boyle, Lac la Biche and Plamondon. There are very few vacancies in our area, while in some rural communities in Alberta, there are significant vacancies. Seniors housing is an important issue, especially for seniors who wish to stay in our area.”

We must be aware of the growing need for additional seniors units and be taking steps to plan effectively for it.

Aspen Regional Water Services Commission

Water services in any community are vital and a high standard of quality and dependability must be maintained. Steve is confident in the level and quality of water services in Athabasca.

“This is the one service that affects everyone in town,” he says. “Our needs, values and consumption behaviours may vary, but we all use water.”

After the municipal election last October, Councillors were given a tour of the Aspen Regional Water facility. Steve appreciated the opportunity to get an up-close and personal look at the process.

“The orientation to the water facility was extremely valuable,” he says. “The facility handles the whole process, from the intake of river water, to complete and thorough processing, verification of the quality, and the distribution of safe, potable water throughout the town and communities in the county.”

Late in October last year an incident occurred that potentially threatened the Town’s water supply. A sediment plume was introduced into the Athabasca River from a holding pond breach at a coal mine near Hinton, Alberta. The Aspen Regional Water Services Commission (ARWSC) in conjunction with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Health monitored the issue. In January they released a notice advising that lab tests confirmed the safety of drinking water coming from the Athabasca regional water system.

“That incident reminded us of the need to be aware of things going on around us, both upriver and downriver,” says Steve. “I am confident in the steps that were taken, especially by the Water Commission staff, to monitor and address the issue. High quality water testing is being done regularly.”

As the community continues to grow and develop, he encourages everyone to be more aware of their own water usage and to consider ways to become better stewards of the water supply.

“Water usage is a complex issue,” he admits. “Individual needs and perspectives on water conservation vary depending on the personal or family situation. It’s up to the individual to look at ways to conserve. We do need to take personal responsibility for that.”

Tiered water rates are in place to allow residents to adjust their usage to lower their water bill.

“The Town water rate is tiered with a base rate per cubic meter, up to 5 cubic meters,” Steve explains. “The tiers then are up to 18 cubic meters, 18 - 45 cubic meters, and over 45 cubic meters.”

Contact the Town Office for current water rate information.

Steve notes that while the Aspen Regional Water Services Commission is an interesting committee to be on, every Committee of Council has its purpose and plays an important role in the community. Effective planning for the future begins in the present.


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Councillor Nichole K. Adams

Nichole K. Adams: Doing your homework is the key

How does a mother with young children deal with the demands and responsibilities of being a Town Councillor?

For Councillor Nichole K. Adams, the answer is clear: first, you do your homework so you know what you’re getting yourself into; second, you make certain to have a support network backing you up; and third, you come in prepared and committed to do what you must to fulfil your responsibilities.

“Being a Town Councillor is the equivalent of a part-time job,” says Nichole. “It doesn’t surprise me, the demands and the time requirements. I did my research before going in. I attended Council meetings during the year prior to the municipal election last fall.”

She also received assurances from family and friends that she would have their support. One example is a neighbour who she can call upon to provide child care when needed for some of the meetings she must attend.

In addition to regular Council meetings, which are typically twice a month, Nichole’s Committees of Council are Municipal Planning Commission, Intermunicipal Development, Administration, Physician Recruitment and Retention, and Aspen Regional Water Services Commission.

She is an alternate for Greater North Foundation, Family and Community Support Services, Northern Lights Library System, Northern Lakes College, and Athabasca Regional Multiplex Society.

The number of Committee meetings and the length of each will depend on the committee and the business at hand. Some meetings are half an hour. Others could go all day. When out of the ordinary events or issues arise, special meetings may be required.

Although meetings are a significant factor in the life of a Town Councillor, they make up only part of a Councillor’s time commitment.

“You do have to be very involved in the role and in the community,” Nichole explains. “You must read the material before meetings, and sometimes the package doesn’t provide enough information, so you have to do more research. There is also councillor email and other correspondence to go through and you have to talk to people and be familiar with what’s going on in the community. I want to make informed decisions, so I have to do my homework. You have to be prepared.”

As challenging as it sometimes can be to keep up with the demands of the role, Nichole has been enjoying the experience.

“I just make sure my schedule is clear for the meetings and I take it one day at a time,” she says. “You do what you have to do. I’m finding it very interesting.”

Aspen Regional Water Services Commission

One of Several processing stages inside
the Aspen Regional Water Services facility

So far, the Aspen Regional Water Services Commission is the committee that Nichole has been the most involved with.

“It is one of our committees that is due to regional collaboration,” she notes. “It includes the Town of Athabasca, the Village of Boyle, Athabasca County and communities in the county. It’s an enjoyable committee to be on.”

The Aspen Regional Water Services facility provides a critical service, processing Athabasca River water to be distributed throughout Athabasca and the county.

“Clean drinking water is a basic life need,” Nichole explains. “If you don’t have a dependable supply, you’ve got a public health crisis.”

Last year, after a sediment plume was introduced into the Athabasca River from a holding pond breach at a coal mine near Hinton, Alberta, a series of tests were carried out to monitor the effect it may have on Athabasca’s drinking water. In January, it was announced that the tests confirmed the safety of drinking water being processed through the Aspen Regional Water system.

“I have seen the information from those tests and our water is perfectly safe,” assures Nichole. “I drink it myself. I give it to my kids. I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t believe it was safe. The testing is ongoing.”

Social Media

Social Media channels like Facebook and Twitter have introduced a whole new era of social communication that has the potential to provide Town Councillors with beneficial feedback and interaction with residents. Nichole welcomes and appreciates these opportunities.

“Social Media is great!” she declares. “It gives us a new way to connect with the public. As a Town Councillor, I enjoy getting people’s opinions and perspectives on issues that are relevant to Athabasca.”

She notes how Town Council meetings are open to public attendance, but the meetings are structured and formal and do not allow for open public discussion. Social Media, on the other hand, allows for informal and relaxed interaction between interested parties.

“Even if the discussion gets a little crazy at times, I still value the opinions being expressed,” says Nichole. “It helps me represent people better if I know what they are thinking.”

Ultimately, whether it is through Social Media discussions, or meeting people on the street, or attending any of the various Council committees she is assigned to, Nichole’s whole purpose is to listen, learn and provide effective leadership and representation.

“I am here to serve,” she says.


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