Taxes deferred 'til Aug. 31, Internet motion tabled, East Hwy 1 ASP tabled, Econ. Task Force Created
MAY 12TH AND MAY 26TH COUNCIL HEARINGS
· TAXES DEFERRED UNTIL AUGUST 31, 2020
· MOTION TO ALLOW FOR TAX-PAYMENT OPTIONS DEFEATED
· INTERNET MOTION TABLED / HELD OFF FOR WORKSHOP
· SPRINGBANK DRY DAM (SR1) OPPOSITION WITHDRAWN
· 2019 BUDGET FINALIZATION – AUDIT REPORT
· EAST HIGHWAY 1 ASP TERMS OF REFERENCE TABLED
· GLENMORE TRAIL EAST ASP TERMS OF REFERENCE APPROVED
· ECONOMIC RECOVERY TASK FORCE CREATED
· REDESIGNATION APPLICATION FOR R1 IN BEARSPAW APPROVED
TAXES DEFERRED UNTIL AUGUST 31, 2020
In April, Council approved a 3% tax decrease. After considerable debate, on May 12th, Council also approved a deferral of late payment of tax penalties for all ratepayers until August 31st.
Council had asked for a review of the reasons it can use when ratepayers ask that tax penalties be waived. However, when Administration brought back its report, instead of providing additional reasons, they provided information on how other municipalities assessed late payment penalties. As a result, the debate focused on our current system of an all-or-nothing penalty to the potential for an incremental penalty. Administration recommended leaving things status quo.
Administration reported that the County’s late penalties averaged over $900,000 a year. Given Alberta’s current economy, coupled with the impacts of COVID-19, as Councillor Kissel noted this seemed harsh. Councillor Hanson made a motion for Administration to investigate an incremental penalty option. Only Kissel and I supported his motion.
Reeve Boehlke said that people could simply go to the bank to borrow money if they needed help with their taxes. He then went on to call those who “choose” not to pay their taxes “delinquents” and a “scourge” on the County. Given that the late payment penalty is 24%, I think it is safe to assume it isn’t about choice. The current economic realities are impacting ratepayers in unprecedent ways. If nothing else, in my opinion, Council could have provided additional leniency even if only on a one-off basis.
MOTION TO ALLOW FOR TAX-PAYMENT OPTIONS DEFEATED
Again, citing the economic hardship facing many of our ratepayers, Councillors Hanson and Kissel brought forward a motion to allow for late payment penalty charges to be waived for 2020 on a case by case basis where 2020 and 2021’s taxes would be combined and paid in equal monthly installments throughout 2021. Their motion failed 6-3, with only me in support.
INTERNET MOTION TABLED / HELD OFF FOR WORKSHOP
In December 2018, Councillor Hanson and I introduced a motion to have Administration review potential options for internet servicing in the County. Our motion passed, however, in early 2019, it was replaced by a more ambitious proposal from the Bragg Creek Connect Committee. That proposal hinged on securing equal funding ($82,500) from the Provincial CARES grant. My concern at that time was if we were unable to secure the funding, progress on this initiative would be delayed.
Due to the Provincial election, a decision on the provincial grant was in fact delayed. When we learned that the grant was not successful, Councillor Hanson and I brought forward a new motion with greater emphasis on working/schooling from home and the mental health related concerns of COVID-19 and on accessing newly available internet-related funding . That motion was added to the April 28th agenda as an emergent motion, however, incorrect assumptions by Reeve Boehlke meant its debate was delayed until the May 12th meeting.
The May 12th agenda also included an item to decide the fate of the Bragg Creek Connect Committee project. Due to the lack of matching provincial grant funding, Administration recommended terminating the project. Given that 18 months had passed since our initial motion, I made a motion to approve the entire $165,000 for the study from the County’s Tax Stabilization Reserve. We had recently approved spending $9.6 million from the same Reserve to extend servicing to benefit a handful of landowners in West Balzac. My thought was that surely we could use $165,000 for an initiative that has the potential to benefit thousands of County residents. My motion was defeated 7-2 with only Hanson supporting me.
Later in that meeting, our emergent motion from April 28th was discussed. The discussion was sidetracked over confusion about whether funding was still available from our original December 2018 motion. When some councillors indicated they didn’t understand the motion, I asked for some clarification. Reeve Boehlke then stated the motion needed to be tabled as he had to move the meeting along. Interestingly, when Councillor Henn needed help clarifying an earlier motion, the Reeve gave Henn 10 minutes to work on his motion. Nevertheless, our motion was tabled until May 26th.
On May 26th, Councillor Hanson and I modified our motion to reflect the feedback from the previous meeting and from subsequent conversations with other councillors, as well as some emails we received from residents.
In the May 26th discussion, Councillor McKylor focused on the possibility of having the County involved to front the costs of infrastructure. Councillor Kissel said that with its narrowed scope she supported our new motion. Councillor Kamachi repeatedly expressed regret that the Bragg Creek Connect Committee project wasn’t being pursued since it had been for the whole County. Interestingly, he had voted against the motion to continue that project at the May 12th meeting. The Reeve stated that since the last meeting, he had heard from a number of residents and was willing to consider the merits of internet servicing and that it should come for a workshop.
CAO Hoggan weighed in saying he didn’t understand the deliverables of the motion. Hanson responded by saying that he didn’t know what was unclear about asking Administration to advocate with ISPs and work with local communities and to hire a consultant to help build a template for improving internet service in the urban fringe areas of the County. He stated that it was crucial that the County take a leadership position on this topic, one that helps make us more resilient to hardship in times of crisis.
I tried to draw a parallel with the County’s solid waste management policy the County. For that initiative, Council has recognized that a one size solution doesn’t fit all. However, it has also recognized that the County needs to help residents on servicing when required and has hired a consultant to assist with that process.
After hearing everyone out, Hanson made a motion for Administration to hold a workshop no later than September 30, 2020. The motion was supported 7-2 with all but Councillor Gautreau and Deputy Reeve Schule in support.
SPRINGBANK DRY DAM (SR1) OPPOSITION WITHDRAWN
On May 12th, after an in-camera (closed) session, Council voted 6-3 to withdraw its opposition to the SR1 project. Councillors McKylor, Gautreau and Reeve Boehlke voted against the motion. While SR1 may not be the best option, this is the option that the Province is moving forward with. Hence, I voted in favour of the motion as I would rather see Rocky View residents receive some compensation as opposed to none. For further details on that compensation, please read the County’s press release here.
2019 BUDGET FINALIZATION – AUDIT REPORT
On May 26th, Administration provided its report on 2019’s year end financials. It was stated that the County had $49.2 million of debt and $42 million in the Tax Stabilization Reserve. However, after all the projects slated for 2020, including the $9.6 million to provide a pipe to West Balzac, that fund would drop to roughly $24 million.
Through the audit report, it was determined that there was a discrepancy in the County’s reporting of gravel reclamation liability – the $750k allocated for reclaiming County pits fell short. Administration acknowledged that it needed to come up with a better formula as to how that would be determined in the future. The remainder of the audit went well.
EAST HIGHWAY 1 ASP TERMS OF REFERENCE TABLED
Late last year, Councillor Gautreau and Deputy Reeve Schule brought forward a motion to explore the creation of a developer funded ASP along East Highway 1. Administration had been directed to solicit developer funding.
Administration returned recommending that the County move forward with the ASP with landowners in the area paying 50% of the costs – meaning the County would be on the hook for the other 50% ($265,000). The ASP would be developer lead and the County’s involvement would strictly be limited to inter-municipal matters.
Gautreau emphasized that Chestermere and Wheatland County had expressed great interest in exploring this corridor and the potential servicing it would bring. However, when asked, Administration stated they hadn’t spoken to either municipality to explore potential joint involvement. I stated it was difficult to determine if we needed additional growth without understanding where we were at in the build out of our other ASPs.
Deputy Reeve Schule said he was struggling with the decision, still he made the motion to have the ASP proceed. However, the majority did not agree. Instead the ASP was tabled until September to see if there are additional landowners willing to help fund the ASP and whether Wheatland and/or Chestermere might participate.
EAST GLENMORE TRAIL ASP TERMS OF REFERENCE APPROVED
Late last year, Gautreau and Schule also brought forward another proposal for an ASP along East Glenmore Trail. Gautreau was adamant that there was a big demand for growth in the area. Despite this big demand, Administration found that the developers/landowners were only willing to pay for 50% of the costs.
One positive is that the 3,200 acres that were originally identified for the ASP area were shrunk down to a more manageable 2,470 acres. Funding for the ASP ($145,000) would come from the Tax Stabilization Fund – for a project that benefits only a few landowners.
Reeve Boehlke expressed concerns about setting a bad precedent when we had asked for 100% developer funding for this ASP and were willing to settle for only 50%. I support the Reeve’s sentiment. However, Administration stated that they had simply been directed to explore potential funding options, not 100% funding and this was the option available.
Councillor Hanson noted that when an ASP is not fully developer funded it should be considered under the County’s Policy that prioritizes ASPs and determines their viability. However, Schule and Gautreau were adamant this ASP move forward. The motion passed 5-4 with Reeve Boehlke, Hanson, Kissel and me in opposition.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY TASK FORCE CREATED
In response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, CAO Hoggan is assembling an Economic Recovery Task Force to be comprised of two Councillors along with members of the business community. The Task Force will meet several times over the next few months culminating in a report to Council in October.
Deputy Reeve Schule and Councillor McKylor were named to the Task Force. The CAO alluded that the members of the business community had been chosen, but no reference to who they were or how they were selected was made.
REDESIGNATION APPLICATION FOR R1 IN BEARSPAW APPROVED
On May 26th, an application to redesignate a 5-acre parcel into a 3-acre parcel with a 2-acre remainder was approved unanimously on Bunny Hollow. There were 5 letters of support and the application followed local policy. Administration recommended approval.