County allows two ag centre loans, one councillor remains opposed

Ponoka County council is throwing its support behind two guaranteed loans despite apprehensions expressed by one councillor.

Ponoka County council is throwing its support behind two guaranteed loans despite apprehensions expressed by one councillor.

The first loan, initiated by the previous council, is for the Calnash Ag Event Centre and will total either $1 million or $1.8 million; the final amount has yet to be finalized.

The second loan, amounting to $1.8 million, for the Rimbey Agrim Centre, was validated as it was left over from the previous council at the new council’s Nov. 26 meeting, when councillors approved the adoption of the bylaw to guarantee the loan.

Despite the fact that the loan was effectively approved by a resolution of the previous council, adopting the bylaw was a lengthy process for councillors, as Coun. Doug Weir was reluctant to put his complete support behind the financial transaction.

“I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea that I’m against this project, because I’m not. If they can build it, go ahead. I’m only about the money,” said Weir.

“I know we’re committed to it, but I just think we need to proceed very cautiously and make sure these people know what they’re doing,” he added.

Both Cutforth and Reeve Paul McLauchlin stepped in to assure Weir of the Rimbey Agricultural society’s validity and competence.

McLauchlin feels the only concern facing this loan is the difficulties Rimbey’s ag society could face when it comes to provincial grants.

“That ag society has been active and has run a smaller facility, but they’ve done it for generations so they do have some experience and background. Whereas, frankly, none of us had a clue when we started this one,” said Cutforth.

“And we do know those people and I know that community,” McLauchlin added.

Other concerns of Weir’s included previous amounts and land donations the county had given to the project, as well as where the society sits with its provincial grants. “Where are they at in their provincial grants? Who have they applied to? And how far along are they? These are important, to me anyways.”

After already giving $1.2 million to the project, Weir asked council why they had to support the loan guarantee. “For the same reason we advanced $1.4 million over here and are guaranteeing $1.8 million for them (Ponoka Ag Event Centre Society),” said Cutforth.

Weir was also concerned the county would be the one having to step up and cover the bill if the Rimbey Agricultural Society didn’t have an effective debt service process in place. “What I’m really concerned about is we’re going to get hung with this.”

“The intent is that obviously they’re going to pay out of the operational revenue, any finance charges. And it’s certainly expected that the county won’t pay five cents, that’s the intent,” explained Cutforth.

“On the other hand, ultimately, if that doesn’t happen and the onus is on the county, then obviously the funding for the county would come out of general revenue,” he added.

Reeve McLauchlin pointed out the county took the same risk with the Calnash Ag Event Centre. “Every question you’re asking is the same conversation we had on this facility as well.

“Absolutely, but that’s a different deal,” said Weir. “It’s a totally different deal, and we’ll deal with that when we deal with that bylaw.”

Addressing Weir’s concerns, Cutforth aided council in amending the bylaw for the Agrim Centre’s loan to include a provision stating: should the municipality be required to pay principle or interest owing under this loan, it would come from general revenue.

During the vote to adopt the bylaw Weir was the only one opposed during the first and second readings. He voted in favour during the motion to move to third and final reading but again was opposed during third and final reading.