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The Whitecourt Town Council & Administration Budget Information Open House was held at the Allan & Jean Millar Centre on March 8. Held for the first time last year, the event is a way for community members to learn about the projects and initiatives that are planned for the year. With Mayor Chichak and councillors as well as members from several different sectors on hand to answer questions, residents could express their thoughts and ideas freely in a welcoming environment.
Councillor Derek Schlosser said most of the people he spoke to were interested in the new municipal centre. “Many people want to know if we are building a new performing arts theatre with a library and municipal centre all in one, and what it would look like. As with almost anything, it comes down to money. Deciding on how to proceed with the project will be up to the new council.
“We have six months left in this term and it would be really non-prudent for us to say we’re going forward with that, we’re going to start shoveling the ground and then have the next council say no. That’s not a great idea.” He also added that more public consultation would be needed before concrete plans can be made. “You know, for the last 20 years there has been a lot of time and money spent on recreation and now we are finding that people are starting to want a little more culture. It is a lot of money but so is the Millar Centre,” said Derek.
“Of the 14 million dollars of projects budgeted, only $156,000 is coming out of taxation. The rest are being funded by grants and federal reserves so we’re not really having a big impact on increase of taxation.” Obviously, that’s a huge difference! “We’re becoming very good at applying for grants and being very successful getting grants.” Doing so is not only a huge benefit to residents but it also makes planning for future projects easier for council which, in the end, continues growing the community.
Mayor Maryann Chichak said she was very satisfied with the turnout compared to last year and that the increase in attendance shows that the interest level has come up. “I think programs and initiatives like this take a few years to really get the public engagement so I do believe this is an initiative we will see continue on into the future.”
As fall elections inch closer, the mayor reflected on what she has learned from residents in her time as mayor. “I have learned how passionate the people are that live here that want to make this place the best place to live, work, and play.” She also pointed out that the Youth Council has been engaging and that “they, too, are community minded, and will be the leaders of tomorrow.”
Chichak has been constant in her desire to have an ongoing and open dialogue with the community and she continues encouraging residents to reach out. “As we go through 2017, please make sure that you share your ideas and thoughts with us whether they are positive or negative. The only way we can continue to grow and correct issues is if we are aware of them. So, take advantage of that through whatever means you feel comfortable,” she said, adding that residents can contact the town administration or “better yet, get hold of any of us as elected officials. We would love to talk to you.”