One thing is clear for Mayor Rick Bonnett: 2015 was a tumultuous year.
A year in review with the mayor showed that while there were challenging times for council, there were also some major steps taken to improve the town’s infrastructure and operations.
“Getting the (north) bridge up and going because it’s been talked about for the last 20 years is a big win,” said Bonnett.
Despite the borrowing bylaw not being initiated before the start of the project, it did pass and the mayor said he looks forward to its completion. He added that it was a task unto itself to try and get the bridge built with government regulations that had to be followed before a shovel went in the ground.
Another event the mayor is pleased with was the town-hosted Day in the Park this summer, which brought entertainment, games and a movie to Centennial Park. “There was a lot of work behind the scenes to make that happen,” Bonnett recalled.
Council and planners have also moved forward with committees that have been some time in the making. A utilities committee and a downtown revitalization committee were established, the former to find other avenues of revenue for Ponoka and the latter to find ways to improve the downtown district.
On top of that, council has also set the stage for recreation and culture enhancements in the community with a commissioned recreation master plan. While it is early days and nothing has been built, Bonnett is pleased to have those in the works.
“The good thing about that is with two new governments (provincial and federal) we have in place … we have a shovel ready project,” said the mayor.
By taking the time and spending the money on the project, Ponoka may be able to take advantage of government grants should they become available. “We had to take those steps to spend the money and be prepared.”
Plans and conceptual drawings are already in the works and council is expected to receive an update on the master plan this January.
Almost proving the point that a plan, and a collaborative one at that, can benefit the community is recent growth at the Ponoka Industrial Airport. Bonnett said because of an approved airport plan, something Ponoka County and the Town of Ponoka worked jointly on, there is agrowing need to build additional taxiways.
“We’ve actually got some aggressive building out there,” said Bonnett.
Two large hangars have recently been built and the mayor added that planners at the Edmonton International Airport want to see fewer smaller plains fly out of there. This sets up Ponoka well for development of leases and lot sales, said Bonnett. “We’re sitting in a very good position to move forward with that.”
Alongside those improvements, 2015 was also a challenging time. Council fired its former CAO some months ago with justifiable cause due to the neglect witgh regard to the borrowing bylaw required before the start of the North Bridge project. The town’s former director of corporate services, Betty Quinlan, served immediate notice of resignation to the town at the same time CAO was fired, which left council urgently needing an interim CAO.
For 2016, Bonnett is cautiously optimistic. He looks forward to hiring a new CAO but the current economic situation in Canada and Alberta concerns him as does the potential for fewer government grants because of the downturn in the economy. He hopes for a turnaround.
The implementation of the new waste management and recycle program is an area he feels will need to be monitored and evaluated on a regular basis. Areas the mayor wants to see some movement is in bylaw enforcement.
“I want to really see our administration and council tackle bylaw enforcement … and I really want to see a push for our utilities and environment committee,” stated Bonnett.
He feels there are ways to improve on derelict buildings and properties in the community and suggests government incentives rather than penalties may be one way to solve that issue.