Agri-producers in the Central Peace region need not have to go anywhere far to access Agriculture Financial Services Corp. (AFSC) services. AFSC-Spirit River has moved only a short distance south from where it used to be on main street in Spirit River to its new home at the administration building of the Municipal District of Spirit River No. 133.
On behalf of Council, MD Reeve Tony Van Rootselaar formally welcomed AFSC-Spirit River Manager Shelley Rozecki on Wednesday, October 6, as she settled into her new space.
Only a few months back, AFSC-Spirit River was facing imminent closure. Spirit River was one of five offices AFSC had defunded in early 2021 with a view to amalgamating their operations with offices they’re in closest proximity to. The others were High Prairie, High River, Rimbey and Smoky Lake.
AFSC CEO Darryl Kay explained the decision to shut down one-staff, low-traffic offices by saying it was necessary as it streamlines operations in light of a tighter provincial budget. AFSC’s budget cuts also include discontinuing the Spring Price Endorsement effective immediately and the scrapping of the 20% top-up payment for the Wildlife Damage Compensation Program.
To avert permanent closure and keep AFSC-Spirit River in the area, MD stepped forward with an offer to host AFSC-Spirit River at no cost to the Government of Alberta. MD’s offer includes providing a furnished, independent office for AFSC-Spirit River as well as picking up the tab for utility costs, including Internet, photocopying and office cleaning.
In a March 19, 2021 letter to Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen, Van Rootselaar said: MD “understands the financial constraints the Government of Alberta is facing in light of the pandemic and economic issues. We also understand the need to show fiscal restraint which, at times, will impact levels of service.”
He said hosting AFSC-Spirit River at the MD building “is a cost-efficient solution in that relocating the current local AFSC staff to another location would mean the province would continue to incur office costs.”
To drum up support, MD also sent into circulation a call-to-action paper, urging area residents to join the lobby by calling government and AFSC.
“We have space in our building. We don’t want it to be under-utilized. Why not put it to good use?” MD Chief Administrative Officer Dan Dibbelt told The Central Peace Signal.
Lobby Gains Ground
Soon after, Birch Hills County joined the lobby to dissuade AFSC from shutting down its Spirit River location.
In a letter to the agriculture minister, Reeve Gerald Manzulenko wrote: “The Town of Spirit River is uniquely situated as a service hub for AFSC clients who call the Central Peace home. The Municipal District of Spirit River No. 133, Saddle Hills County and Birch Hills County are home to large-scale agriculture. The Spirit River branch office provides a conveniently located destination to access services without having to travel out of region. Having an office in Spirit River provides convenient access to services, tailored supports and fiscally sound service. The Spirit River office, despite its small size, directly supports activity worth many millions of dollars.”
AFSC is a crown corporation with a private sector board of directors. It is a diverse corporation with several core business areas, including crop insurance, livestock price insurance, farm loans, commercial loans and farm income disaster assistance.