Two staff positions are being eliminated in the Town of Ponoka.
Affected staff members — Sgt. Kyle Koller, Community Peace Officer (CPO) and Willie Jones, the town’s safety officer — were notified Nov. 16 that the positions will no longer be in place.
The reasoning, it appears, comes from an almost $1 million shortfall due to a major drop in electrical revenues this year. During budget deliberations held at the beginning of the month, council and CAO Albert Flootman held two separate in-camera discussions for personnel reasons, and it is believed this decision is a result of those meetings.
The end date for both positions is set for Dec. 31 with the town stating in a press release that the CPO position is suspended while the safety officer position is being eliminated completely.
Indefinite suspension of CPO position
Sandra Smith, communications manager for the Town of Ponoka, confirmed that the suspended position will remain that way until after the next election.
At the same time, the town’s CPO program is in the process of being approved by the Alberta Solicitor General, which means it has been operating under the Town of Rimbey with Ponoka taking on the costs of the program. Among some of that cost was the town purchasing equipment from Rimbey.
Smith said the town will be talking with Rimbey to see if there is a desire to have some of the equipment returned. Another option would be to sell any unused equipment, however, Smith suggested these are still items for discussion.
The release also states that the enforcement duties for town bylaws will be reassigned internally while the town will rely on Ponoka RCMP for traffic enforcement.
What will happen with the files created by the CPO position since it started last March remains unclear and the town will make decisions on them with advice from the town’s lawyer. If it is deemed that Koller needs to attend a court case as a witness, he will be paid for the time, says Smith.
It is also unclear how much revenue was raised since the position was opened. While the CPO position was created as an education tool for the first few years, Koller had created more than 400 files since March. Revenue from tickets goes to the Alberta Solicitor General and then a portion of that goes to the town. Smith says about $5,000 has come to the town.
In the release, Flootman said council and administration tackled some tough choices during deliberations and cutting the two positions is what helped bring an initial proposed 10 per cent increase down to four per cent.
“When staff first sat down to balance this budget, it initially contained almost a $1 million shortfall due in part to the cost of increased service levels for strategic priorities approved by council over the past three years,” said Flootman in the release.
Mayor Rick Bonnett adds that the goal was to ensure an efficient operation while keeping essential services, saying that council is, “acutely aware of the need to minimize tax increases for residents and businesses during these tough economic times.”
A joint health and safety committee made up of town staff has been established to deal with health and safety matters for town staff.
A request for comments on the budget issues from residents on Ponoka News’ Facebook page brought some reactions in frustration of the situation.
User Karl Norton suggested this won’t help with bylaw issues in town. “Bylaws were not being enforced prior to Kyle coming on staff, and now we’re to believe that won’t become an issue again?”
For his part, Koller also took to Ponoka News’ Facebook to thank residents for their strong support.
“In 23 years I have never seen such a wonderful residential community who on many occasions were warm, supportive and stopped me just to say ‘Thank you.’”
“Residents of Ponoka,” he continued. “You have a strong voice. It was a pleasure serving the community and (I) will miss you folks.”
The discussion turned to the need for two fire departments. Ingeborg Olson asked if the position cuts are due to the cost of having a separate fire department. “I read that revenues are down as the town no longer is involved in Highway 2 responses. Perhaps this should have been considered before the decision to split was made.”
***This story was updated Nov. 22***