A process started by village council two years ago is winding its way to conclusion, and whatever happens Halkirk residents will be in for some changes.
With a small tax base, decreasing provincial government grants and rising costs, the village council approached municipal affairs to conduct a viability review of the municipality in 2020.
Over the proceeding two years, residents have had the opportunity to provide input, an infrastructure study was completed through an Alberta Community Partnership Grant and a viability report was compiled.
The report was released to the public in the beginning of February, and it identified 14 different recommendations of what the community will need to do in order to remain viable.
With the report complete, the residents of Halkirk will be going to the ballot on Mar. 8 and 9 to determine the fate of the community.
When they vote, the electors will be deciding whether or not to remain a village or whether the village should be dissolved and become a hamlet within the county of Stettler.
Either way, things for the community will be changing.
If the residents vote to remain as a village, the 14 recommendations will be used to create ministerial orders from the Minister of Municipal Affairs that the village council will have to follow.
Some of the recommendations include the development of a 10-year capital plan to address “critical repairs, maintenance, and replacements identified in the infrastructure study,” increase annual budgets to adequately compensate staff and come up with a plan for bylaw enforcement.
If the residents vote to dissolve into the County of Paintearth, the minister would make the recommendation to cabinet, and, within several months, the village council would be dissolved and the County of Paintearth would take over administration.
“If the village remains a village, the (tax) rates must address the operating budget,” said Roy Bedford, a viability advisor with Alberta Municipal Affairs.
“It’s the responsibility of the taxpayers to pay for it.”
In a meeting held at the Halkirk Community Hall on Feb. 23, around 20 community members came out to discuss the viability review.
According to Bedford, if the village were to dissolve many of the amenities the community has would be continued by the county, though it was noted that the communities garbage service was “not likely to continue.”
One resident asked “what about people who can’t drive?”
“The individual resident’s would be responsible for solid waste removal,” said Bedford.
One concern noted in the viability review report is the current staffing level of the village.
Currently chief administrative officer (CAO) Marcy Renschler works a part time 0.4 full-time equivalent position, and the public works employee works a 0.5 full-time equivalent.
“It is understood that a previous CAO worked many hours beyond the contracted time, without compensation,” stated the report.
“This indicates that the village may not have budgeted to adequately address the administrative needs of the municipality.”
Another of the recommendations which would influence the ministerial orders if Halkirk remains a village would be increasing staffing to more appropriate levels, which would come at an increased cost to the tax payer.
If the village dissolves, many of the services would be taken over by county staff at less of an economic impact due to the “economy of scale” of the county.
“The county has a variety of expertise,” said Bedford, who also noted that the county has about 40 full-time public works staff.
Regardless of how the Mar. 8 and 9 vote goes, the village will be in for some changes.
The residents have a decision to make.