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Ponoka Chamber of Commerce hosts a State of the Region event

The Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce hosted a State of the Region event on Feb. 21. The meeting, which featured talks from Mayor Kevin Ferguson and Bryce Liddle of Ponoka County, was held at the Ponoka Golf Club. (Mark Weber/Ponoka News)

Providing a closer look at the latest with both the town and Ponoka County, the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce hosted a State of the Region event on Feb. 21.

The meeting, which featured talks from Mayor Kevin Ferguson and Bryce Liddle of the county, was held at the Ponoka Golf Club.

“In 2023, there were over 90 housing starts in the county, which was similar to 2022. This activity is outstanding from an economic development standpoint,” said Liddle, adding that oil and gas activity has also picked up on the west side of Ponoka County as well.

As a result of this type of activity, tax assessment is up, which results in additional revenue, he noted.

As to day-to-day operations, Liddle said there have been some significant personnel changes for the first time in years.

“With the recent retirement of Charlie Cutforth, and unfortunately the passing of Tom Webber — these men were legends in terms of their longevity in municipal administration,” he said.

“They created a culture in Ponoka County that has worked and will continue to work under the new leadership.”

Public Works has begun to see a similar transition with several retirements, which has led to new appointments as well, he said.

“All of these changes were accommodated from within the organization, which speaks to the strengths and the development of local people all hired by Charlie and Tom. So they have left a legacy,” he said.

“Ponoka County has always believed in small government, whereby we hire the best people that we can find, pay them well, and establish expectations that align with their salary. We then turn them loose, and let them make us all look good.”

Liddle said this strategy has the impact of helping to provide the lowest property taxes in the area.

“For a $350,000 home in Ponoka County, your taxes would be $1,490.65.”

Surrounding counties would be anywhere from a few hundred to several hundred dollars higher, he said.

Liddle also discussed the local fire services, which consist of both east and west districts.

“Our fire services logged 11,329 hours of service responding to 500 calls in the east and 151 calls in the west,” he said of 2023 numbers.

“Our dedicated and selfless firefighters also logged a total of 1,661 community involvement hours,” he said.

Looking ahead, he said that the county continues to work with developers and businesses to encourage commercial and industrial activity on the Highway 2 corridor.

“We are also working with residential developers and are moving forward with additional subdivisions to continue to foster and encourage residential growth.

“Municipal governments, as far as development goes, shouldn’t be here to tell you how you can’t get it done. Our job is to tell you how you can get it done,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ferguson began his talk by emphasizing the concept that Ponoka and the surrounding region is ultimately a group project.

“We also believe, from our perspective, that Ponoka is a destination, not just during the Ponoka Stampede which is the greatest stampede in all of Canada, and not just during the ag events that occur weekly — it’s almost like having a mini-stampede every weekend year-round.”

As to the group project concept, Ferguson said it’s about partnership with other forms of government and organizations like the chamber.

“The lines of communication here are wide open. We continue to work together, and I think that is what makes us great — that we look at Ponoka as a group project,” he said.

In terms of bolstering Ponoka’s standing as a destination, Ferguson said that it’s an ongoing philosophy of council and town administration.

“We want everybody to look at Ponoka this way — if Ponoka is not on your bucket list, then it ought to be. And while folks are here, we would like them to consider living here and we want them to do business here. That is essential as well.”

He pointed to upcoming events like the grand opening celebration of the off-leash dog park this spring.

“And our Centennial Park light display — you’ve all seen it. I cannot tell you the number of folks that come up to me, or messages I get on my phone about it. Just the other day I got one from a fellow from Fort McLeod who was driving through a snowstorm a couple of weeks ago and decided to stop in Ponoka for coffee.

“He spent time in the park, and he was enthralled by what went on there,” said Ferguson.

“It’s not just for Christmas, as we keep them ongoing up until the end of February.”

He added that the goal is also to see Ponoka become something of a Christmas destination, what with the Santa Claus parade and fireworks in conjunction with the Almost Midnight Madness event.

Looking into 2024, other improvements are in store including new lighting at the River Valley ball diamonds, new dug-outs there as well, along with four new soccer bench covers at the Lucas Heights soccer pitches and upgrades to the aquaplex, among others.

It fuels the idea that teams will all the more choose Ponoka for tournaments and other major sporting events, he said.

He also mentioned the residential and business incentive programs that are helping to attract new residents.

“By (encouraging) people to start new businesses and build new properties and make Ponoka their home, we are helping the community to grow and thrive into the future, and we are also making this a destination place of choice.”

Circling back to the idea of collaboration, Ferguson said that each person contributes in a significant way to the community.

“I thank you all for doing that because this particular project that we call Ponoka is also a place that we all love. Please continue to do what you do.”

Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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