County of Stettler council voted 4-3 in favour of a three per cent municipal tax increase after lengthy debate at its monthly council meeting on Wednesday, June 8.
Assistant CAO Yvette Cassidy advised council that a decision needed to be made on the matter since tax notices had to be sent out by the end of the month. If a decision was not made, council would have to call special meeting before the end of the month to decide the matter.
The tax increase was first revealed at last month’s meeting as part of the budget discussion.
While administration recommended a 1.5 per cent increase, to cover inflation, council instructed staff at the time to look at doubling that increase to include a 1.5 per cent increase to put into reserves.
The tax increase was introduced at the June meeting in the form of a bylaw, which had its first, second and third reading.
Councillor Greggory Jackson noted that one of the comments he had heard repeatedly during the shop facility debate was that the county should save more money, and questioned how the county could afford to save more money if the municipal tax was only increased to accommodate inflation.
Councillors Dave Grover, Joe Gendre and Ernie Gendre voted against the three per cent increase, instead advocating for the administration-recommended 1.5 per cent.
Ernie Gendre said the county taxes property owners not to make money, but to be able to afford services, and that a three per cent increase went above and beyond providing services. For that reason, he was not comfortable with the adoption of a three per cent increase.
The municipal tax is only part of the eventual tax bill sent to county property owners. There are also school and housing levies which are set by the province and housing board, two entities over which the county has no say.
When factoring in the municipal tax, housing levy and school levy, the actual increase from 2015 is 1.97 per cent.
Taxes are collected based on the previous year’s assessment, so property owners who had their 2015 assessment decrease from the 2014 assessment may see a decrease in taxes. Likewise, property owners who saw an increase in assessment may see a higher increase.
Reeve reprimands councillors
After councillors voted unanimously to hold a plebiscite on the divisive county shop facility, Reeve Wayne Nixon took a moment to speak about the behaviour of two councillors, specifically calling out Ernie Gendre and Dave Grover.
Nixon said that once council makes a decision, no matter if it was a split vote or a unanimous vote, councillors must support the decision of council. It’s acceptable for a councillor to say he did note vote in favour of a specific motion, but otherwise he must uphold the decision – something Ernie Gendre and Grover did not do, Nixon alleged.
He accused Ernie Gendre of “throwing staff under the bus,” and told Grover that his continued lack of support for the decisions on borrowing bylaws for the shop facility undermined the authority of council.
County, Big Valley to start discussions on IDP
The Village of Big Valley contacted the County of Stettler to begin the process of creating an intermunicipal development plan (IDP).
While the village and county are not currently required to have an IDP in place, amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA), currently under review, would require IDPs to exist between communities whose borders are adjacent.
Council voted to start discussions with Big Valley, which they said was simply getting a “jump” on the process.
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If the current amendments to the MGA go through, the county will need to have IDPs in place with Big Valley, Donalda, Gadsby, Botha, Rochon Sands and White Sands.
Shawna Benson, legislative services advisor for the county, said after the meeting that IDPs are usually in place to help urban and rural communities work together, not rural and rural. Thus, she is not certain if the MGA amendments, if they go through, will require the county to create IDPs with neighbouring counties, which include Paintearth, Starland, Camrose, Lacombe and Special Areas.
Urban Dirtworks chosen for second phase of Erskine water project
Councillors voted unanimously to select a tender by Urban Dirtworks for the Village of Erskine’s second phase of the water project. The Sylvan Lake company came in with the lowest bid at $2,232,882.75.
The county received tenders from nine different bidders; Urban Dirtworks, Nu Edge Construction, JDL Underground, BYZ Enterprises, BEL Contracting, T.A. Excavating, Action Plumbing, WRD Borger Construction and Knibb Development.
The highest bid came in at $6,670,403,25.
Four million dollars was set aside to complete the project, of which one third was the responsibility of the county. The remaining two thirds were garnered from grant funding.
Secondary highway condition concerns council
The condition of secondary Highway 855 has been a concern to councillors and staff for many years, as the rough condition of the road continues to deteriorate.
Since it is a provincial highway, the care of the stretch of rough road is the responsibility of the province, not the county.
Council agreed to once again contact Alberta Transportation and invite them to “take a drive,” county communications director Niki Thorsteinsson said. She added that the issue has been discussed the whole length of her tenure with the county, which now stretches to more than three years.