A major advantage of the relationship struck through the Mid-Sized Cities Caucus is sharing best practices, and some municipalities are taking note of some Cochrane initiatives.

The financial benefits of Cochrane's on-demand transit system and the operation of its recreational hubs by a separate nonprofit society are among those catching the eye of some of Alberta's largest municipalities.

Mayor Jeff Genung was re-elected chair of the Mid-Sized Cities Caucus in advance of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Assoc. (AUMA) convention that is now underway in Edmonton.

Formed by the province's 22 small cities and larger towns like Cochrane, it continues to work together to solve common problems and doubles as an advocacy group.

On Nov. 16, they met for three hours to establish a framework for the next four years.

"One of them is to share best practices," says Genung, "so we can learn from one another, not recreate the wheel in each community, and share issues and solutions. It's quite beneficial."

With provincial government funding on a downward slide and COVID-19 hitting municipalities hard, that relationship is especially valuable. 

A few years ago, Genung shared information on Cochrane's on-demand system.

"One of the pros through COVID is we could adjust the system down and save the taxpayers money at the same time. We were one of the few communities that came through the pandemic with a lower budgeted amount spent on our transit system."

The town's unique relationship with the Spray Lake Sawmills Recreation Park Society (SLSRPS) has been examined by many, says Genung. 

Municipalities across the province have been financially crippled by the cost of maintaining their recreation facilities through the pandemic because of forced closures, on-again, off-again openings, and extensive restrictions.

"We talked about it as a mid-sized group throughout the pandemic. There were a lot of communities envious of Cochrane with the arrangement we have for a society to operate that centre."

While it certainly wasn't easy here and challenges remain, both the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre and the Cochrane Arena are operated by a third party and have access to government assistance programs unavailable to municipalities. Simultaneously, they were able to benefit from government assistance programs available to the town. 

Genung says the park society received about $1.3 million from wage subsidies and grant opportunities not available to the town.

"We've toured communities through our rec centre, shared our operating agreement and structure with other communities and it's something others look at with envy."

It's not a one-way street. Cochrane examines ideas that may benefit our community. Today, Genung is meeting with City of Leduc officials to examine their acclaimed budgetary process.

"I'm interested to see what their process is and how they've done that. I understand they've won awards and maybe it's something that we bring to Cochrane to streamline our process, and in the end, save Cochranites dollars."

Genung says other issues currently on the caucus's plate include ambulance response times and affordable housing.