3% tax decrease approved, Springbank rec funding, internet servicing, Conrich ASP revisions tabled
APRIL 28TH COUNCIL UPDATE
· SPRING BUDGET FINALIZATION / TAX RELIEF APPROVED
· TAX DEFERRAL APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY
· TRAFFIC SAFETY ACT ENFORCEMENT ON PRIMARY HIGHWAYS
· RESPONSE TO COUNCIL DIRECTIVE TO CREATE A RECREATION AND PARKS FOUNDATION
· SPRINGBANK REC FUNDING INITIATIVE
· EMERGENT ITEM TO FUND DESIGN STUDY FOR LANGDON JOINT-USE FACILITY
· INTERNET SERVICING EMERGENT MOTION
· SPRINGBANK AREA STRUCTURE PLAN TABLED
· CONRICH ASP REVISIONS TABLED
· ROCKY VIEW COUNCIL MAJORITY ADVOCATE FOR DISSOLUTION OF THE CMRB
SPRING BUDGET FINALIZATION / TAX RELIEF APPROVED
Administration had anticipated a 2% tax increase for the 2020 budget, however, given the current economy and the COVID-19 outbreak, Administration recognized that options needed to be provided to assist County ratepayers financially. As such, Council was provided with three options for 2020’s taxes: a 2% tax increase; a 0% property tax increase; and, a 3 % property tax decrease.
Council unanimously supported the 3% decrease. This decrease will be covered through a transfer from the Tax Stabilization Reserve of approximately $2.8 million. The Tax Stabilization Reserve is precisely for such events - it is built up during good economic times to provide a “rainy day fund” during tough economic times.
As I have mentioned previously, the Council majority included $9.6 million in the draft 2020 budget to fund water/wastewater servicing to West Balzac with the money coming from the Tax Stabilization Reserve. Councillor Hanson made a motion to defer the project given the current economy, both locally and globally, and the financial hardships many residents and businesses are facing. His motion asked for an updated business case showing the project’s financial viability and, an assessment of potential grant availability – things that had never been done for this project. His motion failed 6-3 with only Councillor Kissel and me in support.
Interestingly, other already-approved projects were deferred in efforts to cut back on spending. Last year, when the project first came up, I asked Administration if there were any commitments from developers in West Balzac. I was advised there were not. There is no financial commitment from the landowners either, just a push from them to have Rocky View service their lands.
Councillor Henn stated that he found Councillor Hanson’s motion disingenuous as the three of us had opposed the project since its inception. He believed proceeding with the project sent a strong message that the County was looking to do its part during the crisis and that the money was there to be spent. Reeve Boehlke accused Hanson of grandstanding. He stated the project had been in the works for a long time, was already decided upon and we needed to create jobs.
Councillor Kissel said that the world had changed – given the projected unemployment rates and how much businesses were already struggling, the County needed the money to support all ratepayers. Furthermore, she felt that moving forward without the information Hanson was asking for was irresponsible.
It is true, I have never supported this project, largely because it has lacked the information Councillor Hanson was asking for in his motion. Given the current economic reality, I also believe it to be irresponsible to take $9.6 million from a reserve that is intended to benefit all ratepayers for a project that benefits a small handful of landowners - especially with no developer commitment or when any development in the area may not happen for many years.
TAX DEFERRAL APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY
Recently, the Province announced a deferral of the educational tax component of non-residential property taxes. To implement this, the Province provided municipalities with two options – to defer the non-residential educational tax component until October 1st; or, to defer all taxes for all ratepayers until September 1st. Council voted unanimously to provide a deferral for all ratepayers.
Even though the Province announced this deferral to benefit Alberta businesses, the County still has to pay the Province the educational component of the County’s residential tax base on July 1st – approximately $7 million. So, while taxes are deferred, Administration is asking that if you can pay your taxes on time to please do so.
Councillor Hanson and Councillor Kissel also introduced a motion to explore an additional deferral tax payment model that will defer payments on an as-needed basis until 2021. Their motion will be debated on May 12th.
TRAFFIC SAFETY ACT ENFORCEMENT ON PRIMARY HIGHWAYS
Currently, County Peace officers are not permitted to enforce traffic regulations on primary highways. The Province has given municipalities the option to have their Peace Officers enforce traffic regulations on all highways within their jurisdiction.
Administration summarized the benefits to include: ability to deal with all Traffic Safety Act violations when on routine patrols; enhanced ability to respond to speed-related resident reports/complaints; a clearer area of responsibility – the whole municipality not just parts of it; red-tape reduction; potential increased revenue; and, less impact on police (RCMP) resources.
The negatives were described as: limited number of Peace Officers spread over more roads; and, a risk that there might be a focus on highway enforcement (could be mitigated by directing Peace Officers to continue to focus on county roads).
Some councillors raised concerns that this change would spread our already small number of Peace Officers thinner. There is no doubt that the Province is downloading more and more policing costs onto municipalities, however, I do not believe providing our officers with more authority is a negative. Administration’s basic message was that this would permit Peace officers to enforce traffic violations on provincial highways on their way to and from carrying out their existing responsibilities. Freeing up RCMP officers to deal with violations that Peace Officers cannot enforce – personal and property crime – should have a positive impact on our ratepayers.
In a 5-4 decision, Council decided to table a decision on this issue in favour of having a Council workshop. Reeve Boehlke, Councillors Kamachi and Hanson and I were opposed.
RESPONSE TO COUNCIL DIRECTIVE TO CREATE A RECREATION AND PARKS FOUNDATION
Last September, Councillor McKylor brought forward a motion to explore creating a Recreation and Parks Foundation to support the long-term maintenance of recreation and parks in the County.
In its report Administration stated that such a foundation would be premature at this time. Administration noted that the new County-wide Recreation Governance Model and the Recreation Master Plan that is currently being drafted are the base for the provision of recreational services, programs and facilities. Administration also stated that, once the Recreation Master Plan is complete, other funding options would be explored, for example, sponsorship or philanthropic donations.
Council decided to cease exploration of options for the formation of a foundation until the Rec Master Plan is completed. The concept will be revisited within six months of the plan’s approval.
SPRINGBANK REC FUNDING INITIATIVE
In 2013, the Council of the day earmarked $2.2 million of provincial grant money for recreation in Springbank. It was part of a regional funding initiative that allocated funds throughout the County.
Local Councillor McKylor had intended to use these funds, along with funds from the sale of other county lands, including a 4-acre municipal reserve parcel in Commercial Court, to create a community centre in Springbank and/or future recreation needs.
Given that COVID-19 has forced the closure of County-wide recreational facilities,
Administration explored the use of this grant funding for upgrades to the Springbank Park for All Seasons (SPFAS). The SPFAS is a regional facility that was developed in the early 70s and was expanded in three phases.
In 2019, the County conducted a capital renewal plan for the SPFAS to determine costs for improvements to sustain and extend its life. A total of $1,069,000 will be allocated for general maintenance and repairs to the building. As well, $91,000 will be allocated to create a dog park in the above mentioned 4-acre parcel in Commercial Court.
Council unanimously supported the projects and an application will be made to the Province for funding immediately.
EMERGENT ITEM TO FUND DESIGN STUDY FOR LANGDON JOINT-USE FACILITY
The County has spent over $7 million dollars servicing the joint-use lands that will home Langdon’s future high school and recreation centre. With the province’s recent approval of the high school, Rocky View School Board is in the design phase of the new facility and the County is responsible for a portion of the associated costs.
Deputy Reeve Schule asked for $100,000 to come either from the Langdon Special Local Improvement Tax fund or from the Tax Stabilization Reserve to fund the County’s portion of the design. The issue was treated as an emergent item because the project is time sensitive. The Province was putting pressure on the group to submit the design and they were already behind due to the impacts of COVID-19.
I stated I felt it was more appropriate for the monies to come from Langdon’s Special Levy rather than the Tax Stabilization Reserve. Administration advised that there were insufficient funds in the account currently, however, they could implement a model that would allow the levy to pay back the money over three years. Schule agreed and his motion passed unanimously.
INTERNET SERVICING EMERGENT MOTION
Councillor Hanson and I brought forward an emergent motion to revisit internet servicing in the County. Too many residents in Rocky View County do not have adequate internet servicing and we believe the County has a role to play in addressing this gap. The impact of COVID-19 has emphasized how much our ratepayers rely on internet servicing not only for work and school but for social interaction and overall well-being. As such, the matter needs to be addressed sooner than later. Our emergent motion was added to the agenda in an 8-1 vote. Reeve Boehlke was the lone opposition.
Unfortunately, when it came time to debate our emergent motion, the Reeve said it was a notice of motion, not an emergent motion and refused to permit discussion of it at the April 28th meeting. When Councillor Hanson challenged the Reeve’s decision, he was overruled by the Reeve. As a result, our motion will be debated on May 12th.
SPRINGBANK AREA STRUCTURE PLAN TABLED
The Springbank Area Structure Plan was on the agenda for first reading. Revisions to the Springbank ASP have been worked on for a number of years. Early in the public engagement process, Administration prepared three density options – low, moderate, and high – and asked for feedback on these options as guidance for drafting the ASP. Administration then prepared the draft ASP based on the high-density option.
In the discussion on April 28th, I asked how Administration chose this option since my understanding is that there was almost an even split in the feedback between low and high-density options. Administration’s response was that the scenario used in the ASP would be most likely to gain acceptance from the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board and our neighbours.
I want to understand the process since the Bearspaw ASP is also up for review. It is useful to learn how Administration decides which option moves forward, especially when a community is split.
I also asked how the public would be able to provide feedback on the draft ASP, assuming it received first reading. Would the only opportunity be at the public hearing? Administration assured Council that there would be an opportunity for public feedback between first reading and the public hearing, as well as at the public hearing.
Local Councillor McKylor stated that she had concerns that the ASP was too big and there wasn’t enough clarity about the “special planning” areas. She felt that the one-size-fits-all goal of the plan wasn’t working. The Reeve and Councillor Gautreau also stated they believed the ASP was too big.
Councillor Hanson, the other local councillor, stated that he would like to understand how Administration arrived at the scenario it did. At the same time, he felt that dividing the area into multiple ASPs was arbitrary and that planning needed to be done on a larger scale. He felt we should move ahead with the ASP, get feedback from our neighbours and the Province and make changes, if needed, at that point.
Councillor McKylor made a motion to table the Springbank ASP until July 28th so that Council can hold a workshop to discuss whether it should proceed as one ASP or be divided into multiple ASPs. Her motion was supported 8-1, with all but Hanson in support.
After first reading was tabled, I made a motion arising to allow for more public engagement on the draft ASP since it was no longer heading for a June public hearing. Unfortunately, my initial wording was confusing. Instead of allowing me, or anyone else, opportunity to clarify the wording, the Reeve called the vote and the motion failed 7-2 with only Kamachi and me in support.
CONRICH ASP AMENDMENTS TABLED
The Conrich ASP is being revised to provide land use policy direction for approximately 2,700 acres, including the hamlet core, which had been deferred as a Future Planning Area when the Conrich ASP was approved in 2015. Area Councillor Gautreau had concerns with the lack of buffering between a residential area and the proposed neighbouring industrial use. I shared these concerns.
Administration stated that the public could provide that feedback after first reading or during the public hearing. However, Gautreau opted to table the ASP revision until July 28th and have Administration obtain feedback from the affected residents. His motion was supported unanimously.
ROCKY VIEW COUNCIL MAJORITY ADVOCATE FOR DISSOLUTION OF THE CMRB
In a 6-3 decision, Council decided to continue to advocate for the dissolution of the mandatory Calgary Metropolitan Region Board claiming it is detrimental to the autonomy and long-term sustainability of Rocky View County and to hire Alberta Counsel to lobby on the County’s behalf. Councillors Hanson, Kissel and I opposed these motions.
Councillor Kissel stated that we should figure out how to work together better. Councillor Hanson did not believe that dissolving the Board was the solution. He indicated that Rocky View should be lobbying for a better appeal mechanism.
I do not believe that the Board should be dissolved for the same reason mentioned by Kissel – we need to figure out how to be a better regional collaborator. I also agree with Hanson that the CMRB could be improved with a better appeal mechanism.
There is no denying the reality that Rocky View is as successful in attracting development as it is because of our proximity to our urban neighbours. Surrounding Calgary, Cochrane and Chestermere on three sides and Airdrie in its entirety affords us opportunities that many of our rural neighbours don’t have. It also creates development pressures here unlike those experienced by those rural neighbours. The CMRB’s decision-making process for regional planning, recognizes that the urban municipalities have the most people, and, in a democracy the majority wins. However, the CMRB’s existing process permits that majority to ignore the minority, which risks making it a bully. This was the focus of Hanson’s suggestion that it is the appeal mechanism that needs fixing. The CMRB’s current structure does not provide for appeals to an outside party, which would make the process fairer. Many of us have experienced a neighbour we don’t get along with. It takes effort on both sides to make things work. But even with a bad neighbour, if you can’t resolve your differences, you can usually go to court. There should be something similar for CMRB.