County History

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(Excerpted from "Serving Martha & Henry: Rural Municipal Government in Alberta 1983-1998", published by the AAMD&C in 1998)

In the heart of southern Alberta, Lethbridge County features a prairie landscape with vast stretches of golden fields, along with inspiring and historic coulees and the impressive river valleys of the Old Man and Little Bow. Anyone growing up in the prairies of western Canada will feel at home in the fields and grasslands. The County is also served by two irrigation districts, providing a stable water supply for agricultural producers, as well as creating many recreational opportunities on the man-made lakes created by the water reservoirs.

The agricultural industry remains the backbone of the local economy. Indeed there has been a proliferation of intensive agricultural operations in the County over the past several years. County Council has faced many challenges in trying to promote the responsible development of these industries, while at the same time balancing concerns about the environment, the ground water and the impact of these large operations on municipal infrastructure. These challenges, combined with the many other issues that have affected municipalities over the past fifteen years, have kept County Council and staff very busy.

Council

Every three years, municipal elections bring together an eclectic group of people to serve as councillors and provide leadership and direction for the municipality. Drawing from their different experiences and perspective, these individuals must come together to work as a unit in the interest of the municipality as a whole. The ability to compromise and reach a consensus about difficult issues is always challenging, particularly when there are conflicting interests that must be reconciled. The range of difficult issues that have arisen over the past 15 years have made for some lively Council meetings, but through it all, the men and women who have served on Council have persevered in trying to identify the best course of action to serve the interests of the County.

For the 1983 through 1986 term:

  • Council consisted of Dick Papworth, John Murray, Judith Nickol, Steve Slemko, Roelof Heinen, Hans Rutz and Lloyd Trapp, with Dick Papworth being chosen by his fellow councillors to serve as Reeve.

In the 1986 elections:

  • Dick Papworth, John Murray, Roelof Heinen, Hans Rutz were re-elected and Jerry Virginillo, Francis Wright and Frank Nemeth joined Council for their first terms.
  • Mr. Papworth was again chosen to serve as Reeve, a position he held until 1988, at which time Roelof Heinen assumed the responsibilities.

There was only one change on Council following the 1989 elections.

  • Dick Papworth, Jerry Virginillo, Francis Wright, Hans Rutz, Roelof Heinen and Frank Nemeth were all re-elected, while Leroy Niedermier joined the Council table for the first time.
  • Roelof Heinen was selected as Reeve at the first organizational meeting, and continued to hold the position for the full term.

There were many changes to Council as a result of the 1992 elections.

  • Roelof Heinen and Leroy Niedermier were the only two councillors re-elected Marlene McCann, Eugene Wauters, Albert Kooy, Alan Fraser and David Oseen were elected to serve their first terms.
  • Roelof Heinen held the position of Reeve through 1993, at which time Eugene Wauters was chosen by his colleagues to take over the responsibilities.
  • It was also in 1993 that Roelof Heinen took on important new responsibilities when he was elected President of the AAMD&C.
  • The County suffered a sad loss midway through this term in 1994 when Leroy Niedermier passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. His friendship and presence around the Council table were greatly missed by all. A by-election was held in June 1994 to fill the vacancy. David Carlson was elected to represent the citizens of Division 1.

The 1995 elections:

  • brought one new face to Council with the election of John Konynenbelt to his first term, as well as the return of Lloyd Trapp who had not been on Council since the 1986 elections.
  • Other councillors re-elected were Eugene Wauters, David Carlson, Roelof Heinen, David Oseen and Albert Kooy.

The results of the 1998 elections brought some changes:

  • Lorne Hickey (Division 1) joined the County Council.
  • John Willms (Division 2) defeated an incumbent member of Council.
  • Eugene Wauters (Division 3) incumbent member of previous Council was elected by acclamation.
  • Mark Osaka (Division 4) defeated two other candidates. All three were running to replace a retiring Council member.
  • Hans Rutz (Division 5) won the election over a rival candidate (the incumbent had retired).
  • John Kolk (Division 6) was first elected by acclamation, replacing a retiring member of Council.  John was appointed Deputy Reeve at the organizational meeting.
  • David Oseen (Division 7) incumbent member of previous Council was elected by acclamation.

The Council was acclaimed in 2001.

  • Lorne Hickey (Division 1) was appointed Deputy Reeve.
  • David Oseen (Division 7) was appointed Reeve. 

The results of the 2004 elections:

  • Councillors re-elected were Eugene Wauters (Division 3) and David Oseen (Division 7). The first organizational meeting also returned David as Reeve.
  • Lorne Hickey (Division 1), John Willms (Division 2), Mark Osaka (Division 4), Hans Rutz (Division 5) and John Kolk (Division 6) incumbent members of previous Council were elected by acclamation.

The 2005 October Organizational Meeting took on a new Reeve.  When the votes were counted, former Deputy Reeve Lorne Hickey (Division 1) was the new Reeve and former Reeve David Oseen (Division 7) was the new Deputy Reeve.

The 2006 October Organizational Meeting returned Lorne Hickey (Division 1) to a second term as Reeve.

In the October 2007 elections:

  • four new Councillors were either elected or acclaimed.
  • New Councillors include Henry Doeve (Division 3), Bonnie Cote (Division 4), Tom White (Division 6) and Morris Zeinstra (Division 7).
  • Councillors Lorne Hickey (Division 1), John Willms (Division 2) and Hans Rutz (Division 5) are the remaining members on the new Council with Lorne Hickey selected as the County Reeve and Hans Rutz as Deputy Reeve at the Annual Organizational Meeting in October 2007.

The 2008 October Organizational Meeting returned Lorne Hickey (Division 1) to Reeve and Henry Doeve (Division 3) was declared Deputy Reeve.

The results of the October 2010 elections:

  • Lorne Hickey (Division 1) defeated one other candidate.
  • Ken Benson (Division 4) defeated an incumbent member of Council.
  • Steve Campbell (Division 5) defeated two other candidates. All three were running to replace a retiring Council member.
  • John Willms (Division 2), Henry Doeve (Division 3), Tom White (Division 6) and Morris Zeinstra (Division 7) incumbent members of previous Council were elected by acclamation.

The 2010 October Organizational Meeting returned Lorne Hickey (Division 1) to Reeve and Henry Doeve (Division 3) to Deputy Reeve.

There were no opponents seeking a seat for the October 2013 election. All seven County Councillors won though acclamation and will serve County citizens for four more years.

The 2013 through to 2016 October Organizational Meetings returned Lorne Hickey (Division 1) to Reeve and Henry Doeve (Division 3) to Deputy Reeve.

Administration

From 1980 through May 1983, Dale Clark held the position of County Manager. He was followed by Sheldon Steinke who was promoted from his position of Assistant Manager to take on the responsibilities of leading the Administrative team. With Mr. Steinke’s promotion, Thomas Olson took over the position of Assistant Manager, a position he held until the separation of the education function from the County’s responsibilities. With the departure of Mr. Olson, the position remained vacant for some time, but in March 1997 Council promoted Dennis Shigematsu to the position. After years of dedicated service, Mr. Steinke resigned from the County in September 1996. As an interim measure, Dennis Shigematsu stepped up to serve as Acting County Manager from October 1996 through March 1997 at which time Layne Johnson was hired as the new Manager.  After the departure of Mr. Johnson in April, 2004, Mr. Robyn Singleton was hired September, 2004 as Chief Administrative Office for the County of Lethbridge.  Robyn Singleton departed in September 2007 and Council appointed Dennis Shigematsu to the position of County Manager.  In August, 2013, County Council hired a new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). Rick Robinson, former Director of Corporate Services, steps in as former CAO Dennis Shigematsu retired in November 2013.

Overall, since 1983 the County office staff has decreased from 25 to 11 permanent employees and the budget has decreased from $16,876,262 to $7,122,978 in 1996. This dramatic decrease in budget and employees is largely due to education functions being removed from the County system of government. In 1995, responsibility for schools was removed from the County and amalgamated with the County of Vulcan School District to form the Palliser Regional School Division. The new school division is now its own separate corporate entity.

The County would like to thank all of their past and present employees for their hard work in making the municipality a better place to live. In particular, they would like to thank the following employees who have fifteen or more years of service with the County: Dennis Shigematsu, John Vanden Broeke, Brenda Weber, Doreen Tiffin, Don MacLennan, Nick Paladino, Debbie Matthews, Mike Lanz, Duane Charlesworth, Otto Egland, Lory Ryden, Wayne Olshaski, Roy Kipnik, Don Bodnar, Kenneth Hamabata, Gary Heinonen, David Lapointe, Pierre Belzile, Glen Lengyel, Robert Weins, Clark Fleming, Ron Spillman, Tracy Beglaw and Dario Colmo.

Agricultural and Municipal Services

The Agricultural Service Board (A.S.B.) is comprised of all seven County Councillors, the County Manager and the Agricultural Fieldman. The Board’s Mission statement is to enhance the quality of life and promote environmentally sustainable agriculture in the County. However a number of changes have taken place within the last several years as Council has streamlined all departments. As a result, the A.S.B. and the Agricultural Fieldman have had to take on additional responsibilities.

A.S.B. programs such as roadside seeding, backsloping, pest control, roadside spraying, weed control, shelterbelts, soil conservation and hamlet and subdivision mowing are still among the key services provided through the Board. A range of new programs and projects have also been added that were previously administered by Public Works and other departments. These include absorbing the Parks Department which oversees seven hamlet parks and playgrounds, carrying out custom vegetation control on thirteen school grounds for the Palliser Regional School Division, roadside mowing and directing the Disaster Services Department.

In addition, new innovative programs have been developed. For example, the A.S.B. has begun spraying the driving surfaces of low traffic roads with Roundup and grading them only once in the spring and fall. As well, they are utilizing a gravel retriever to widen the top of the driving surface while recovering the gravel off the edges of the road.

The Supervisor of Agriculture and Municipal Services and his assistant have also been delegated the responsibility of supervising gravel road maintenance. This involves producing gravel maps and directing seven divisional graders, as well as overseeing summer and winter maintenance of 1087 miles of roads. By consolidating responsibility for road surface and roadside weed control, gravel retrieving, roadside mowing and gravel road maintenance programs under one Department, the County feels it is able to deliver these services in a more cost effective manner by reducing overlap and duplication.

Other Programs and Services

The County is involved in the provision of many municipal programs and services. Maintaining and improving the transportation and utility infrastructure, responsibility for planning and development and providing for waste management are among the many activities that the County is involved in.

Maintaining and improving municipal infrastructure is an important priority for the County. The local transportation system is largely complete, with the focus in recent years being placed on improving and maintaining the existing roads rather than building new ones. The 1980’s were very busy years in terms of road reconstruction, improvement and maintenance. However, reductions in grants from Alberta Transportation and Utilities in the mid-1990’s had a significant impact on the County’s public work’s budget. In 1995 the County was able to make use of funding available under the Canada-Alberta Infrastructure Program to make improvements to the Old Coaldale Road, West Monarch Road and the Sunnyside Road. It was also in 1995 that the County suffered one half million dollars in damages in the "flood of the century." Repairing damage to culverts, bridges, and roadways were among the many costs suffered by the County, not to mention the devastating losses to individual citizens and businesses.

Another major development in relation to transportation arose in 1996, when the County entered into an agreement with Transport Canada to take over control of the Lethbridge Regional Airport. Responsibility for the Airport was therefore transferred to the County effective January 1, 1997. Through its management plan, the County believes it will be successful in maintaining a viable operation without any negative impact on the municipal budget.

Providing utility services to some of the more densely populated areas of the County is another important dimension of the activities of the public works department. Recently, major water service upgrades have been undertaken in Monarch, Iron Springs and Shaughnessy. Ongoing maintenance and testing is undertaken to ensure these facilities are in safe operating condition for citizens.

The County developed and adopted a General Municipal Plan and a Land Use By-law in 1985. For years the Oldman Regional Planning Commission handled the County’s planning matters, as well as for the other municipalities in the area. However, with the elimination of funding for planning commissions in the 1990’s, the Commission was forced to dissolve. In its place, the Oldman River Intermunicipal Service Agency was formed. The new Agency offers a variety of services to area municipalities on a contract basis. The County of Lethbridge has contracted with the Agency to update its Land Use By-law, as well as to develop a new Municipal Development Plan to bring the County in line with the new planning requirements of the Municipal Government Act. The County was also involved in the establishment of the Lethbridge Regional Waste Management Services Commission. The Commission was established in 1992 with a mandate to provide long term planning for waste disposal and management throughout the region.

Recreation

The many small lakes and irrigation reservoirs within the County offer fishing and boating enthusiasts a wide array of wonderful opportunities. These prairie potholes are complemented by a variety of well used campgrounds, picnic areas and hiking trails. The County’s involvement in recreation has changed significantly over the past fifteen years. In line with the trend toward downsizing and privatization, the County has significantly reduced its role in terms of "hands on" management of recreational facilities. The Oldman River Regional Recreation Board which was formed in 1977 was dissolved in December 1994 and the County has also eliminated financial assistance for all golf courses. As well, all rural parks in the County have been privatized, however the County still maintains two urban parks and five hamlet playground areas.

Meeting Future Challenges

Lethbridge County faces many challenges during the 21st century. Coping with the pressure of doing more with less and the need to balance a range of divergent interests will require innovative new approaches to local government. Council and Administration bring many diverse views to the table and through their collective effort they believe they will be able to work through these challenges for the benefit of the municipality as a whole. The County celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2014.