Recreation, Rimoka and financial statements key issues in county debates

The two Ponoka County forums on Oct. 15 and 16, for candidates standing in divisions 1 to 3, have shown that residents living in the eastern

The two Ponoka County forums on Oct. 15 and 16, for candidates standing in divisions 1 to 3, have shown that residents living in the eastern and central regions of the county have many common issues on their minds.

Ponoka County is known for having the lowest taxes and mill rate in the province, but as the demands of ratepayers increase, each new candidate expressed they’d be willing to raise taxes to support the services.

The three incumbents, Gordon Svenningsen (division 1), Gawney Hinkley (division 2) and George Verheire (division 3) are proud of the county’s diligence to low taxes and don’t feel raising them would be necessary.

County residents were insistent the county work with town council to support cultural and recreational opportunities.

Bryce Liddle of division 1 agrees with residents that the two councils need to work together for the common goal. “We do need a new facility and we’ve got to start thinking about it now.”

Svenningsen feels the county needs to be more included on town planning processes if unity is going to work. “Our experience over the years is that the town has had some issue with that, they go ahead and make plans . . . They tell us they’re going to build it and we (town council) want this. Well, we need to be in on the planning stages.”

“I think it would be a great idea to have a multiplex of sorts,” said Tom Griffiths, division 1. Griffiths says having the multiplex would be cheaper in capital and maintenance costs, rather than club and sports groups having their own building.

Jerry Bonnett, division 2, feels the county could put more money into it but town and county business should also lend their support. “We could have something like, Calnash Trucking put in $600,000 into the ag centre there. So if we had more input like that too, it would help.”

“What’s good for the town is good for the county, and vice versa,” said Doug Weir, division 1. However he feels the county should focus on finishing the Calnash Ag Event Centre before the two councils group together to work on an “outdoor project.”

Mark Matejka, division 2, stated the county and its residents should take responsibility for recreational opportunities through financial support. “It’s an investment . . . Our county residents use it just as much as the town people.”

Lorrie Jess, division 2, was also for the county lending their support. However, she wants to ensure the county has the money to help construct amenities such as the multiplex and the money to sustain it. “If you want something you’re going to have to pay for it somehow.”

Curtis Emes, division 2, was also pro county support. He feels a multiplex would attract visitors to town and giving youth recreational opportunities helps them build social skills. “Life is just like a hockey team, you learn how to work as a team later in life.”

“As far as recreation goes, we have a $21 million budget. We have to run this county on $21 million,” said Verheire. He isn’t sure the county is getting the benefit they desire after giving more than $200,000 to the town. Through analysis, he states people are saying they don’t use the town’s recreational amenities.

For his part, Hinkley listed off donations Ponoka County has given to clubs and projects in both the Town of Ponoka and Town of Rimbey.

Others mentioned services that could result in increased taxes where more road improvements and paving projects and extra policing could be available for the county.

The Rimoka Foundation and Bethany Group were also mentioned at both forums.

Both Svenningsen and Griffiths feel more communication is the way to go and Liddle thinks the county needs to look at where the money is coming from and where it’s going to. “If Bethany is the best group, let them stay,” said Liddle.

At the division 2 and 3 forum, new candidates were asked what decision they would have made differently than councillors on the same issue. Jerry Bonnet mentioned a recent letter recommending Rimoka to remove Bethany Group within 30 days. “I was kind of sitting there, man, if you guys want to do that, you better have somebody in place to take over . . . That’s the one decision I didn’t go with.”

Emes agreed he didn’t like the action taken on Rimoka and Bethany. He also agreed with Jess that the county shouldn’t have raised the nomination fee.

“I think the one that really kicked me in the mouth was the Bethany Group,” said Matejka.

Weir disagreed with council’s decisions regarding Bethany Group and the Ponoka Ag Event Centre Society (PAECS). “In both cases council (is) meddling, it just irritates me to no end. You got independent boards that are running that are supposed to operate facilities. County council comes along and wants to meddle.”

The forums also showed residents remain unsatisfied with the dissolution of the partnership between Ponoka County and the PAECS board regarding the Calnash Ag Event Centre.

At the division 1 forum, Svenningsen was asked where the county stood with PAECS and where equal representation was. He disclosed to audience members the history of the county’s involvement and said equal representation wasn’t aggressively sought in the beginning because the county believed that each group came from the same town and would abide by the honour system.

During the division 2 and 3 forum, Ponoka business owner and PAECS vice-president Sherry Gummow challenged Hinkley and Verheire over what she feels is an issue with the county’s minutes and financial statements.

At issue was an Aug. 9, 2011 motion made by Hinkley for county to potentially back a line of credit for the ag centre worth $1 million. The amount actually signed for by county was $1.8 million. After researching the matter, Gummow could find no after mention of the transaction in the county minutes. She also couldn’t find mention in the audit report saying it had again been approved in 2012.

“I’ve spoken to municipal government affairs and they’ve advised me there is supposed to be a mention of this motion each year by county council to approve the financial statements,” said Gummow.

Gummow asked the incumbent councillors is there a motion to approve the financial statement that has been distributed as the audited financial statements for the County of Ponoka, in the year 2012, and if so where can it be found.

She also asked wanted to know why the fact that the county signed for the loan guarantee was not disclosed in the financial statement. “Because, as a tax payer, I feel that’s very, very important information,” she said.

Hinkley confirmed a motion was made to approve the financial statement and suggested Gummow direct her questions to the auditor. “He knows all about that. All I did was sign (and) vote in 2011 and I’m not too sure we’re still under the hook for that $1.8 million due to the fact that equal representation is still not there.”

Without the representation Hinkley said he’d no longer have his signature stand. “That’s it, I don’t think it’s ever been discussed since.”

Rather than answer the question Verheire chose to rebuttal. “How come the tax board didn’t have their financial statements in order?”

This isn’t about PAECS George,” Gummow argued.

“This is the same thing. You did not have your financial statements in order,” Verheire countered.