By Cole Parkinson
With four years as a Municipal District of Taber councillor under her belt, Division 5 incumbent Jen Crowson is hopeful to continue bringing ideas forward to the table. As a self-proclaimed “political nerd”, Crowson says it has always been her intent to run for the Division 5 chair once her first term was up.
“I’ve always had the intention of being there for the long-term. I’m a political nerd. I like governance and policy, and I feel like I look through a fiscal lens. I went into this thinking long-term and this is where I’d want to be for a long while,” she explained to the Advance in an interview last week.
While Crowson has sat on the Horizon School Board for the past several terms, the last election was her first time being elected to municipal council. In the past four years, she has served as deputy reeve for a number of years and she says she’s learned a lot about how municipal government works and she’s excited to continue to grow that passion and expand on those skills if given another term.
“I know there are hard decisions that are going to be made in the future, and I’m willing to make those hard decisions if need be,” she stated. “I think major challenges coming ahead will be the decline in oil and gas revenues, which we’ve already seen. The other challenge with that is doing the best we can with the capital we have as we move forward. When we plan our infrastructure projects and maintenance of our roadways, those have to be the top priority and the other stuff will have to fit into the budget where it fits. Fiscally, we should only spend within our means. We have to maintain being sustainable into the future and make sure any decisions are based on need versus want, as well is it fiscally possible?”
With a passion for politics, Crowson says learning on the fly about how important policies and bylaws are for municipalities was huge for this council.
During the prior four years, councillors have been busy updating policies and reviewing outdated procedures, which Crowson says has been a particularly proud achievement during her time on council.
“Reviewing our governance structure and putting some policies in place that may have already been in practice just so we have stronger guiding principles. And reviewing things that needed to be looked at. As an example, adopting an asset management plan and looking at our infrastructure on a need basis and not necessarily a want. Implementing our recreation funding as well. We didn’t have anything in place before. We did a review and now we have guiding principles when it comes to recreation, which is huge,” she said.
“That impacts all of our divisions to certain extents because we have hamlets and other municipalities within, so it gives us good guiding principles moving forward. And, of course, all of the IDPs (Intermuniciapl Development Plan) and ICFs (Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework) have been completed. Those were a big feat because the majority were in the works when I got on council, but we completed them all. Many municipalities around the province don’t have those completed yet. I feel like we’ve done a lot really. And we did it all through challenging times throughout the four years because we started with fires, then floods, key staff positions changing over and then COVID.”
Another big piece of that is planning out financial moves the M.D. can make with available revenue.
“It’s continuing with some of the policy and bylaw development that we have mapped out because you can’t do it all at once. Continuing to look at our financial planning — our operating and capital planning. We’re required by the government to do our three-year and five-year budgeting and forecasting, so continuing with that and looking at some hard decisions. It’s really sad we have to budget for uncollected taxes because that would be really nice to not have to include in our budget, but it is something we need to do currently,” she said. “And then continuing to advocate with the provincial government for the collection of unpaid taxes, that should be number one. We’re not alone in that — the entire province is at that point of advocating for that. I think there is $56 or $58 million uncollected in 2020, so it’s not unique to the M.D. of Taber. Also continuing to advocate for any issue that our residents bring forward.”
Despite differences between all the councillors at the M.D. table, Crowson says that collaboration between everyone on the next M.D. council will be huge for future success of the municipality.
“You may not always agree, but at the end of the day, you support decisions that are made at the table. And collaboration can look different in many facets — I mean we have many partners that we collaborate with and you have to build relationships with people around the table. You may not always agree, but it makes things easier when you can see people’s perspectives,” she explained. “I need to support my community and my division, but when we make decisions, those are made for what’s best for the municipality. That goes along with developing a policy or a bylaw — it has to be good for the majority of the M.D. We can’t make a policy that is specific to one division of the M.D.”
With voters heading to the polls in the coming days, Crowson says she hopes Division 5 residents have noticed how much work she has put in during these past four years of being on council.
Despite all the hard work, she says the job has been incredibly fulfilling and she is excited to give the M.D. another four years if that’s what voters want.
“As I’ve been reflecting on the last few years, I feel like you hear the same thing — ‘you won’t work a day in your life if you love what you do.’ And I love what I do. I’ve never not wanted to walk through the doors where I get to make decisions with my friends at the table. I feel like I have a strong voice and I’m respected amongst my peers. In the last few years, there have been some hard times. Am I willing to continue to continue to do hard? Yes — and I feel like I’m the type of person who is equipped to do those things. Politics aren’t for everybody, but it’s something I have a passion for,” she said. “I’ve been honoured to be a member of council for the M.D. of Taber and I appreciate the staff and all the support they’ve given council over the years. And the residents of the M.D. of Taber in my division for electing me in the past.”