Premier, Town of Fort Smith discuss funding issues

Premier, Town of Fort Smith discuss funding issues
NWT Premier Bob McLeod.Photo: Meagan Wohlberg.

NWT Premier Bob McLeod was handed a wish list for funding and services when he met with Fort Smith’s mayor and council last week during a brief stop in the community.

From longstanding jurisdictional land issues to recent hopes for commitments around the upcoming 2018 Arctic Winter Games, Fort Smith Mayor Brad Brake said there is much the municipality hopes to see from the territorial government.

‘Being a good landowner’

Brake said there are a number of issues pertaining to Commissioner’s land – areas outside of the municipal boundaries but still part of the community of Fort Smith – that the town wants to see the territory take action on.

“Basically what we want to see is the GNWT being a good landowner,” he said. “So for example, we have bylaws with regards to unsightly premises, and there are issues with fire abatement on Commissioner’s land, trail safety, garbage showing up on the land, particularly the landslide area where slides are happening along the river on Commissioner’s land.”

According to McLeod, grants in-kind are given to municipal governments to take care of Commissioner’s lands, so he said the GNWT needs more information before it can go over and above in addressing the concerns.

“I said I’m only sure of two things: that the town has a responsibility to its residents to make sure they’re safe and healthy, and secondly that they have the authority to control lands within municipal boundaries through bylaws and their authority to enforce their bylaws,” said McLeod, who suggested the town begin a discussion with the department of Lands.

New funding model

With the GNWT changing its community government funding system from a population-based model to a needs-based funding model, Brake said Fort Smith is hoping for greater access to infrastructure funding for municipalities.

The GNWT recently announced it would be changing the way municipalities are funded in order to close the existing $40-million infrastructure shortfall and ensure communities are getting what they need.

“The Town of Fort Smith is very interested in seeing the new funding model rolled out,” Brake said. “We would also like to see the government look into some other larger lump-sum investments in large-scale infrastructure projects.”

Such funding could have come in handy for the town’s ongoing arena renovation, and would be even more useful in attacking the community’s aging underground water and sewer infrastructure. The replacement of the 70-year-old pipes – along with repaving the roads above them – is estimated to cost over $50 million.

“We have a lot of old infrastructure in-ground that we’re working steadily to repair and get through, but we have to budget it annually and work through the system,” Brake said. “If we had access to larger project funds, then we could do a much larger scale project.”

Ground ambulance

Over the last three years, Brake has raised the issue of funding for ambulance services in the community, which the town thinks should be the responsibility of Health and Social Services rather than a volunteer service run by the town.

“What we’re finding is it’s becoming unsustainable for our community to field volunteers,” he said. “We get volunteers but the level of response required of them is such that with people who have a life other than the ambulance department, they burn out and it’s very hard for us to field volunteers and keep volunteers engaged.”

McLeod said the issue of ground ambulance services is “longstanding” and coming to a head in communities across the NWT, not just Fort Smith, and said it will likely be addressed in the 18th Assembly.

“We have to decide whether or not it’s an essential service or not,” McLeod said. “The town has been struggling to provide the service, and we have issues in some of the other communities in the Northwest Territories. We’ve been doing some studies in that area so we’re going to be looking in more detail after our election.”

Arctic Winter Games

The Town of Fort Smith is also looking for more support during the upcoming 2018 Arctic Winter Games, to be shared between Hay River and Fort Smith, in order to support the communities and droves of volunteers that will be required to make the event a success.

The GNWT has already committed $3.5 million for the games, but McLeod said the GNWT has offered to help with planning and in-kind services.

“The economy has changed since they submitted their bid, so there’s some concern about their ability to raise some of the revenues that they had expected. Other than that, it looks like planning is well underway for the Arctic Winter Games and they’re pleased with the support they’re getting from the government,” he said. “So we outlined the areas where we’re contributing, we’re firm with our commitment and prepared to look at other areas where we’ve provided services and assistance in previous Arctic Winter Games venues.”

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