At least one Westlock County councillors believes some electoral divisions are getting preferential treatment — a claim that has revealed fault lines on the seven-member council.
Division 1 Coun. Ron Zadunayski requested a review of completed public works projects, broken down by electoral divisions, at council’s March 28 meeting, but eventually withdrew his request following a long, heated debate and said he’ll compile his own data.
“There seems to be an awful lot of work done in some areas and in some areas there is very little,” said Zadunayski.
“As councillors we serve Westlock County first and our own divisions second, but we are also councillors for our own divisions and a few of us have some concerns.”
Zadunayski added that he wasn’t as concerned about the money spent, but the amount of roads graded, brush cut and other maintenance conducted around the municipality.
He stressed he had roads that needed new barriers, areas where roads were continually flooded out and other infrastructure holes that had been sitting unfilled for most of his term.
However, chief administrative officer Leo Ludwig noted that the way they determine what gets attention has nothing to do with location within the county.
“This would take a fair bit of staff time. As staff we don’t look at divisional boundaries, we don’t have our work files divided up by division. Going back three years we can’t change what was done,” he said. “What is most critical is what gets put on the list, regardless of location.”
Deputy reeve Ray Marquette agreed, noting that the county’s transportation department prioritizes work depending on a host of factors.
“Where it’s most necessary is where it’s getting done,” said Marquette. “The transportation guy’s job is to find where and what work is most necessary.”
Zadunayski conceded that the issues in his division are not life-or-death, but he argued that is beside the point.
“Ratepayers expect something to be done, I’m their councillor. I’ve put work forward every year and it hasn’t been done. They’re not big jobs, but they’re not getting done,” said Zadunayski.
“It just seems that a lot of other parts of the county are getting lots of work done and I’m not saying that it’s not necessary work, but I also have necessary work. There seems to be an oversight on some issues.
“Every division should get at least a little work down. It is time.”
Coun. Bud Massey agreed with Zadunayski, saying the county had spent greater amounts of money on smaller requests in the past.
He pointed out that request for decision surrounding Zadunayski’s initial request suggested that preparing a report would take around 40 man-hours.
“To have information to make intelligent decisions is never a waste of time,” said Massey.
“It would resolve a lot of issues. The bulk of the money in our transportation budget says
‘brushing’ — it doesn’t say where, it just says brushing.”
Coun. Dennis Primeau cautioned council from dwelling too much on the past while the Municipal Affairs Inspection is underway, suggesting it may dig up skeletons from previous councils and administrations that they’re not prepared to deal with.
“We’re going to find that a lot of public works resources were used on unallocated projects, misappropriations, all kinds of stuff,” said Primeau.
“We already know that we had almost a whole year of transportation resources burned up on the Horizon North pad, a lot of time was spent on the landfill. We don’t know what the bill was.”
Zadunayski argued that was a red herring.
“This has nothing to do with Municipal Affairs, I’m just asking for a report on what’s been done in every division,” he said.
“I also have taxpayers in my division and my taxpayers deserve some service, not just gravelling of roads and grading. There is a lot of issues in my division, they’re not as serious as in other divisions, but the county has not responded to any of them.
“Why should we have councillors in each division asking for work if some divisions are totally neglected and others aren’t?
“Otherwise we might as well have one councillor for the entire county.”
Ludwig responded that councillors were required to consider the whole county first and agreed with Primeau’s point that reviewing which division got what work would create more friction at the council table.
“We don’t have enough resources to allocate as we would like to. In many cases we’re playing catch-up and trying to not fall further behind,” said Ludwig.
“Our staff don’t look at the map and say
‘that’s division six, that’s division three.’ The feedback we get from staff is based on need, regardless of location in the municipality.”
Reeve Don Savage weighed in, noting that with council going through six CAOs in the past three years and a host of other public works employees, finding exact information would be extremely difficult.
“The information is not there,” he said. “I don’t know what this would accomplish. I’ve had projects since I was on council since 2009 and they’re still there. There’s just so much they can do.
“Last year they finally replaced a culvert where the road washed out every spring. Finally they got there.”
Zadunayski was adamant that his division is getting the short end of the stick.
“I have one area where the river is going to wash the road out,” said Zadunayski. “That’s been on the books now since I became a councillor. We need to put some rocks in there to shore it up. Nothing has happened.”
Primeau argued that the information Zadunayski wanted was already available in the previous council budgets.
“I really don’t think we accomplish anything at all by burning up tons and tons of man hours,” said Primeau. “Every councillor has a three inch binder, that brings you right up to date on what’s been done.”
“It’s fine for you to say, Dennis,” responded Zadunayski. “You’ve had the lion’s share of the work done in your division.”