By Nikki Jamieson
Westwind Weekly News
While the pandemic dominated much of 2020, the Village of Stirling was lucky to be in an area with relatively few cases compared to other parts of Alberta.
While the pandemic did see the village having to cancel community events and facilities while the province battled cases of COVID-19, Mayor Trevor Lewington said the village rose to the challenge to ensure that neighbours in need were being taken care of.
“Village life was certainly different with less community events and gatherings. No one can remember a time when the annual Settler Days summer festival was cancelled before,” said Lewington. “That said, residents were creative in coming up with alternatives. There was a ‘Light the Night’contest hosted by a local business to encourage people to decorate their homes. The volunteer Fire Department also provided Santa with transportation for a driving tour around town to wave to his younger fans. So the coronavirus may have disrupted some of our ‘normal’festivities and activities but residents responded with creativity to create alternative ways to celebrate and come together as a community. In some ways the pandemic may have helped to create a stronger community.”
The village had also offered payment and penalty deferrals on utility and tax accounts to help residents who saw their incomes negatively impacted by the pandemic.
While the village had to work throughout the “complexities” caused by the public health restrictions prompted by the pandemic, 2020 saw significant progress on projects. The village sold one municipally owned residential lot “despite a challenging economy”, and completed a number of capital improvement projects, such as the major replacement of deep utilities in the block in front of the school. The final paving, landscaping and beautification of the block will be completed later this year.
They also welcomed a new CAO, Scott Donselaar, to the village’s administration team.
The village launched it’s own municipally controlled corporation, Ridge Utilities Ltd., as an innovative community sustainability initiative in October 2020.
“Initial response has been strong and we will continue to work with partners in 2021 to provide energy rates and programs that benefit communities across southern Alberta.”
The Stirling Fire Department received a new brush truck, Engine 3, which enhances the department’s response to grass fires, railway related incidents and mutual aid under provincial forestry programs. The department also operates a Structure Protection Unit, provided by Flash Fire & Safety of Edmonton, under regional and provincial contracts. Lewington said the trailer is provided at no cost to the village, and is the only one of its kind south of Calgary.
The village’s library was relocated to a larger location in the lower level of the community centre, and features larger seating areas, dedicated program rooms, larger washroom, meeting space and increased space to hold their collection, although unfortunately, due to public health guidelines, it has been operating with curbside pick-up service only since the move. Lewington hopes that the community will get to enjoy the new space this year, but he cautions that the “impact of the coronavirus is also not going anywhere anytime soon”.
“While the increasing availability of vaccines provide hope, the vast majority of Albertans will not be vaccinated until closer to the end of the year. It is highly likely that some public health restrictions will remain in place for many months to come.”
Another challenge for the village will be offsetting costs being downloaded to municipalities from the province, such as rural policing costs.
“Communities must continue to look for ways to deliver operational efficiencies recognizing taxpayers are tapped out and are expecting no to low property tax increases coming out of a challenging economy in 2020 while still maintaining a high level of community services.”
The village is looking forward to working with the newly-formed Canada’s Western Gateway Trade and Logistics Corridor, which they are a part of. This is an alliance of communities and private enterprises along Highway 4, and looks to attract new investment and promote economic development given the advantages located along the corridor, such as the only 24/7 commercial border crossing in Alberta at Coutts to the regional airport in Lethbridge.
Private investors have also begun site preparations on a new medical clinic and pharmacy in Stirling, which is due to be completed later in 2021 and compliment the village’s existing dental clinic, located in the building next door, and help ensure that residents in the community will have a wide range of health care options available to them.
The Village had applied for a federal grant to build a cenotaph to commemorate all those from the community who fought in past armed conflicts, which, if approved, will be located by the municipal office.