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Building on our strengths as we emerge from the pandemic

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With restrictions easing over the past few weeks, life is gradually returning to normal.

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People are gathering once again on patios, reconnecting with neighbours, getting together with family and enjoying the simple pleasures of life once again.Water parks are teeming with children, ball diamonds and soccer fields are filled with excitement and smiles can be seen everywhere. Business is returning to normal; restaurants and bars are alive as patios fill with laughter once again.It is wonderful to see the excitement and to celebrate as new businesses such as the Italian Centre Shop and Bodega bring new life to the community.

No doubt the past 18 months have been a challenge and we will never underestimate how much the world has changed due to COVID-19; however, as we re-emerge, the county is well-positioned for the future. Tax rates have fallen by a total of 2.18 percent over the past four years as council took a decidedly cautious approach to reduce the burden on residents and businesses during the recession.

Going forward, council has taken many steps to position the county for success.

New growth nodes have been approved in Ardrossan, Bremner, Cambrian Crossing and Hillshire.These new communities will create a wide variety of housing options as people continue to see Strathcona County as the most desirable place to live in the region.A re-development plan has been approved for Centre in the Park, breathing new life into the heart of the community.

Plans for an indoor field house are taking shape and site selection is underway.Festival Place is amid a major facelift as the county capitalized on federal grant programs, enabling us to accelerate much-needed upgrades.Work has been completed to upgrade the heating and cooling systems at Millennium Place and Kinsmen Pools which will extend the life of these facilities for many years to come. These projects will also reduce our carbon footprint as energy efficiency upgrades were completed.A new skate park and spray park have been completed in Ardrossan and pickleball courts have been constructed in Josephburg.

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Tax incentive bylaws have been implemented to encourage further investment in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland and the Strathcona Industrial Area. Both programs have generated considerable interest from companies looking to expand their footprint in the petrochemical sector and the hydrogen space.

The county is working with the Strathcona County Museum as plans for a new facility begin to take shape.Work is underway to find a temporary solution for the space challenges faced by the +55 Club. Meanwhile, the county is engaging with seniors to find a permanent solution that will meet their needs for many years to come.

Work is also underway to improve broadband access. With more people working from home, at-home learning dominating the educational landscape, and more than 1,000 businesses located outside of the urban area of Sherwood Park, it is obvious that more needs to be done to increase broadband capacity. As plans take shape to improve broadband, the county is actively seeking grants from all levels of government.

At the same time, the county continues to focus on improving mental health and providing supports from families impacted by COVID-19 and the economic downturn.

I am proud of the work that has been done over the past four years to build Strathcona County. The vision that has emerged is one of growth, business expansion and community building. Our future is incredibly bright.

Bill Tonita is the Ward 4 councillor for Strathcona County. He can be reached by calling 780-464-8146 or by emailing bill.tonita@strathcona.ca.

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