By Joel van der Veen
DAVIDSON — In the words of Clayton Schneider, it was like gathering the cities, towns and villages from across the province, and putting them together in one place.
Davidson’s mayor was describing the annual Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention, held Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 in Regina at the Queensbury Convention Centre.
“It’s always nice to be in a room with every community that makes up Saskatchewan,” said Schneider. “It’s a great, collaborative three days.”
Schneider represented the town at the convention, along with Coun. Mandy Tichit and assistant administrator Donna Bessey.
He said he would encourage all councillors to attend the event, calling it an excellent opportunity to network and learn about new ideas that can benefit the town and its residents.
The convention featured education sessions on a variety of topics, from fire service and public procurement practices to rail safety and property assessment.
The sessions are designed to be timely and topical; one on Monday afternoon focused on “Lessons Learned Through the 2015 Wildfires.”
The Municipal Marketplace trade show featured more than 180 booths advertising various products and services, while Toronto Star columnist and CBC panelist Chantal Hébert was the keynote speaker on Tuesday.
Social activities were also part of the schedule, including a welcome reception on Sunday night and a banquet and awards ceremony on Tuesday.
Attendees had the opportunity to enter dialogue with provincial cabinet ministers on various matters, along with the traditional “Bear Pit” with members of the Saskatchewan Party caucus on Wednesday morning.
Schneider said he appreciated the format of those sessions, at which delegates could ask questions, and “they basically answer you right on the spot.”
Most municipalities across the province are encountering the same challenges with basic infrastructure, including water and sewer systems, he reported.
Schneider said he was encouraged to hear confirmation that municipal revenue sharing will continue in Saskatchewan, despite projections of deficit budgets this year and next.
For 2015-16, the province had committed to distributing nearly $265.3 million to municipalities — equivalent to one full point of the provincial sales tax.
“Municipalities like ours really need that,” said Schneider, who added that he most appreciated having the chance to network with other delegates.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to collaborate,” he said. “To me, that’s the highlight.”
Kenaston Mayor ML Whittles attended on behalf of her village, along with administrator Carman Fowler, and said she also found it a beneficial experience.
One sesson in particular offered a look at “Keeping Council Out of Conflict,” looking at new legislation introduced in response to the provincial inquiry on the Rural Municipality of Sherwood.
The RM’s former reeve, Kevin Eberle, was removed from office in February 2015 after a report from the inquiry indicated significant conflicts of interest and violations of the public trust.
Whittles said some have found the new disclosure requirements for municipal leaders “invasive,” but she believes they are important for the sake of accountability.
“I think it’s necessary,” she said. “You’re a public figure . . . People need to know.”
Like Schneider, she said she appreciated the networking opportunities and being able to meet with other mayors.
“We all have the same problems, not matter what your size,” said Whittles, adding that the issues differ largely by “degrees.”
Craik Mayor Rick Rogers said his town usually sends a couple of councillors and the administrator to the SUMA convention, but opted not to this year for a couple of reasons.
With municipal elections coming up on Oct. 26, Rogers said several council members have already decided they would not seek re-election and believed the benefit of attending the convention would be limited.
Factoring in the cost involved and the busy schedules of councillors, Rogers said, “We all just decided none of us would go.”