For the first time in many years, town council opened the doors to its Committee of the Whole meeting.
Ponoka News was able to attend and report on the meeting, and while council does not make any decisions at a Committee of the Whole meeting, it gives a chance for councillors to plan.
First on the agenda was strategic planning; Mayor Rick Bonnett suggested a retreat be planned so staff and council could spend two days to plan. Acting CAO Betty Quinlan said council and directors previously would meet in the council chambers for a two-day period but there was less chance for council to speak with staff in a social setting.
Bonnett liked the idea of leaving town as a team building exercise. “At least you get that feeling that your staff gets to know council.”
He suggests when council is a given a request for decision, how that decision affects council’s strategic planning should also be included.
Quinlan is looking at different companies that provide guidance in strategic planning and a weekend in February is tentatively planned for the retreat.
Review of the town’s organization
Council wants a review of staff and servicing levels in the Town of Ponoka.
Quinlan wanted to know what council’s goal is with an organizational review of this nature. “What do you want done? How much do you want to spend?”
“We don’t want a six month review. I think we want somebody to come in. We need advice on what our organizational structure should look like,” Quinlan said.
A consultant would be able to show where the pressure points are in the organization and provide solutions, she added. She wanted council to be prepared for a recommendation to hire more staff.
While the town may not be able to afford a large number of new employees, Quinlan suggests the feedback would help her plan for the future. Someone from outside the organization would also be able to provide an unbiased recommendation, she added.
Coun. Carla Prediger likes the idea of hearing what staff think as well. “Staff have to have an opportunity to speak.”
But there is the worry that looking at the organizational charts of the Town of Ponoka’s employees may cause some confusion once a new CAO is hired.
Bonnett feels council should act rather than wait. He has heard it took some communities up to a year before finding town manager, which is six months more than council estimated.
Potential to increase staff servicing levels
Council is looking at what it would take to increase staff servicing levels, and how to pay for them.
Bonnett has asked town directors to look at their staffing needs. “Whatever they come up with, we’d have to find the money and the money’s not going to pop magically into the air.”
He feels if they do decide to hire more employees that some capital projects may need to be pushed back. Quinlan said the town receives some federal and provincial grants but some have restrictions.
“If we do add staffing, it’s gotta be on an ongoing basis. You’re dollars have to be ongoing,” added Quinlan.
“Whatever we reduce will become a permanent reduction to capital spending,” she added.
Changing how council meets with residents
Coffee with Council used to be an informal quarterly meeting with councillors in the council chambers or at the Kinsmen Community Centre.
Coun. Prediger suggested a different format. “Can we not be more creative in this?”
“We could focus on major groups where we focus on events,” she added.
Prediger feels councillors would get more information from residents if they attended different events and were open to hearing what people have to say.
Quinlan said she has seen other municipalities would go to a local restaurant and buy coffee for the first hundred people who came in to buy coffee. Councillors could then take that time to hear from residents.
No decisions were made but councillors want to hear back from residents on suggestions on how the informal meeting is held and they are looking for suggestions to change the name of Coffee with Council.
Councillors hope to speak with residents Feb. 17 on Family Day with a time to be determined.
Looking at fees for recreation groups
Coun. Tim Falkiner wants to attract more people to Ponoka’s recreation.
He suggested one of the ways to do that is to reduce recreation groups’ fees by 50 to 60 per cent. Falkiner feels an agreement could be made with these groups to lower their user fees if the town does. This could potentially increase the number of people playing in these groups.
“All the recreation in town is dropping. We need to be able to advertise, ‘Move to Ponoka and your kids can play,’” explained Falkiner.
He feels this will be a draw for people to come to Ponoka. “If you can cut the fees for individual families in half, that’s huge.”
Falkiner suggests these rates be lowered only to Ponoka town and county residents.
Bonnett feels this discussion may need to happen with Ponoka County, as the county contributes almost $300,000 to Ponoka for recreation. He feels both municipalities should be in agreement before making any decisions.
The Town of Ponoka subsidizes recreation at approximately $1 million a year.