By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
The Mayor of Coaldale, Jack Van Rijn is pushing for solutions in 2023.
Van Rijn said one of the main focuses in 2022 was working to rectify the “unfair” RCMP cost-sharing within the Town of Coaldale.
Continuing the work of previous councils Town of Coaldale staff and council wereactive in 2022 in their advocacy for securing a more equitable cost-sharing agreement for the contracted policing services provided by the RCMP. Van Rijn said this has been “an ongoing conversation we’re having with the provincial and federal governments regarding policing costs for the Town of Coaldale.”
“As I’ve stated many times, the Town of Coaldale, with a population of just under the 9,000, is the only community in all of Canada paying 100 per cent of its policing costs.” All municipalities with populations between 5,000 and 15,000 that contract the RCMP for policing services, enjoy a 70/30 split which sees the federal government paying 30 per cent of the cost.
This agreement does not currently apply to Coaldale and it is costing Coaldale taxpayers big bucks; it is an issue the Town has set their sights on rectifying.
Van Rijn reiterated the 30 per cent savings could be allocated to other valuable services and upgrades which would keep rate-payers from seeing additional tax increases. Last month, council approved the 2023 operating and capital budgets. Rate-payers will see a 1.84 per cent increase in residential property taxes and a 3.22 per cent increase in non-residential properties. He added that if the 70/30 agreement, which applies to every other municipality in Canada under 15,000 except Coaldale was hounoure, “we would be able to have a zero per cent increase on taxes in 2023 because we could use those funds to offset our shortfall.”
“Having to pay that extra 30 per cent — it equates to approximately $462,000 in additional funding we are putting towards policing and those funds are much needed for our own community,” citing the Town’s desire to fund items such as a new swimming pool, a second sheet of arena ice, and other general maintenance costs.
“It’s unfortunate we are the only municipality, seeing ourselves in this scenario.”
Elected as mayor in 2021, Van Rijn brings to role, 33 years of career experience in emergency response and has held positions as Deputy Fire Chief and Emergency Medical Technician/ambulance for the Coaldale & District Emergency Services (CDES). A huge focus for Council in 2022 was to advocate for the Town’s plan to take back the Town’s Ambulance service/contract from AHS.
The move would improve efficiencies in the response process, said Van Rijn. “The next best thing, (along with schedule changes) is if we can move those ambulances (and crews) to the fire hall. They can work with our crews so that when there’s a call coming in, the fire crew and the ambulance crew know what’s going on and they respond to the call together, depending on the level of care that is required.”
Van Rijn added Alberta’s Minister of Health, Jason Copping “has already given us verbal approval, of Coaldale taking over,” and added Minister Copping was not able to provide a decision in late 2022, and needed to “look into some policy changes that needed to be done.”
Discussions with AHS relating to Coaldale taking over its ambulance service are also underway. “Our hope is that we would be able to relocate our ambulances to the Coaldale Fire Hall,” which was renovated in 2020 to accommodate up to three ambulances, crew quarters, and sleeping quarters. This would allow staff will to be able to work out of the fire hall rather than the Coaldale Health Care Centre, if approved.
In 2022, Coaldale saw a “big win” for AHS EMS staff who were previously operating on 96-hour shifts under the “core-flex” schedule, which have been cited as a factor in staff burnout and longer response times across Alberta. One of Coaldale’s ambulances transitioned to a 12-hour shift schedule in November 2022, with the second slated to abandon Core-flex later this month.
The core-flex schedule saw AHS EMS staff responding while on-call more often, a factor which contributed to longer response times. Van Rijn said the longer response times, while a major issue, is not due in any part to staff. He noted, “it’s no fault of the staff; the staff are doing an excellent job,” and are subject to “working under the guidelines of AHS.”
Van Rijn said he believes returning the ambulance service to Coaldale would improve efficiencies. “Right now, if there is a life-threatening call, our fire department responds automatically and then they are waiting for the ambulance to come from wherever, whether (from the) station or another call,” noting is AHS EMS were operating out of the fire hall, communication would also improve.
“Ultimately, we want to take over the contract from AHS where the delivery service is under the care of the Town of Coaldale and our fire department,” and added the crews currently working for AHS would have the opportunity to switch over to work for the Town and “continue to provide the excellent level of care that they’re currently providing.” Van Rijn confirmed a meeting on the matter with Minister Copping is set to take place in the coming weeks.
In July, the ambulatory care clinic reopened in Coaldale bringing in 4,280 visitors to the clinic from July to November, “far-exceeding” initial expectations. “It’s being very well received,” added Van Rijn, noting, “the doctors would like to see some small renovations done,” and cited the potential to alter nursing staff to support outpatient services.
“We’re also looking at extending the lab in diagnostic imaging at the facility. Those are the three priorities that we started in 2022 that we still need to see the completion of 2023.”
Building stronger partnerships with other municipalities and other levels of government have brought about some key changes and progress said Van Rijn. “Currently, I think the Town of Coaldale has very good working relationships with not only other municipal communities, but also with the corresponding municipal governments (in the region) as well,”
Van Rijn credited a strong working relationship with Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter as “instrumental in doing the leg work for us on connecting us with ministers at the provincial level to facilitate the meetings that we needed to have to keep moving forward with some of these initiatives that council is working on” and credited a strong working relationship with Lethbridge’s County’s Reeve, Tory Campbell for equitable changes to both municipality’s fire response areas in 2022.
The bulk of Phase One the new Civic Square project was completed and will see the Town’s new offices fully operational in the building by the end of January. Van Rijn said, “we were fortunate enough to receive a large grant which will go towards the development of the outdoor space/plaza,” behind the new building and will include the construction of an outdoor skating rink which will begin construction in 2023. Other plans for value-added recreational upgrades include a $495,000 commitment for upgrades and renovations to the existing Coaldale Pool to keep the existing facility operational as the Town works toward a strategy to realize its long-term plans to build a new indoor/outdoor pool.
The Town committed $1 million each year to road rehabilitation and asphalt renewal program that will be starting in 2023 to rebuild in older areas of town with respect to asphalt and sidewalks.
As Coaldale continues to focus on growth and development, 2022 was a huge year for the progress and completion of major capital projects including the completion of the $12.5 million wastewater facility, which will support new residential, industrial and commercial developments well into the future.
Van Rijn highlighted the Town is “actively working on two projects with developers in Coaldale,” including the West and South Coaldale developments. The South Coaldale development will see continued planning for the development of over 23 acres of land for residential uses, including single-family dwellings, townhouses, low-rise apartments, and needed housing for seniors in South Coaldale. Additionally, the proposed West Coaldale Development Concept Plan “outlines potential future residential and commercial development in the SW of Coaldale.”
Van Rijn noted the Town receives “lots of inquiries” on the latest news and progress being made in Coaldale and added, “Coaldale is very fortunate to have the expertise as part of the administration team that are very proactive in advertising Coaldale, not only in southern Alberta, but western Canada.”