County prepares for fire protection handover

Ponoka County Briefs - New fire department takes on protection for east side of county

A year-long journey filled with potholes and some hard feelings will culminate this week.

At its meeting on Thursday, April 21, Ponoka County council gave final approval to its Fire Protection Bylaw paving the way for the county to begin full operation of their Ponoka Regional Fire Service, including the newly established East District Fire Department.

The bylaw officially took effect yesterday (Tuesday, April 26) and move the authority for fire protection in the eastern side of Ponoka County to their new regional service from the Town of Ponoka Fire Department.

It also establishes a number of regulations residents and businesses in the county must adhere to regarding things such as fire pits, burn barrels, fireplaces, transporting dangerous goods and obtaining fire permits.

Also included in the 13-page bylaw are specified fines for not following the rules as well as fees and other charges that can be levied for the service having to respond to calls.

“This was a long time coming and we are ready to go,” said Ponoka County regional fire chief Dennis Jones during the council discussion before the bylaw passed third reading.

Chief administrative officer Charlie Cutforth added a mutual aid agreement with the Town of Ponoka which would allow the municipalities to call on each other for resources if needed is in the hands of the town and he is confident the transition will go smoothly.

Pipeline chat capped

A representative from the Canadian Association of the Petroleum Producers (CAPP) made a presentation to council as part of their province-wide tour to help convince counties of the need to lower taxes on oil and gas producers in a time of economic hardship.

Chris Montgomery, manager of E&P communication and engagement for CAPP, explained the organization is looking for what they believe is a more fair ratio compared to residential taxes. CAPP’s suggestion is a two to one ratio whereas the present one in the county is around 6.4 to one.

However, Reeve Paul McLauchlin along with Cutforth chided Montgomery regarding the somewhat misleading and self-serving statistics he provided in his presentation as well as for painting all of the municipalities in Alberta with the same brush.

“The logic you put forward (with your suggestion) falls short,” McLauchlin stated.

“The population base here doesn’t match the expenses put out to deal with oil and gas development. It’s truly east to say that in dealing with some municipalities that there is some gouging out there, but that’s not the relationship I sense here. This county has no debt and is fiscally sound. The reality of hanging your hat on this ratio that doesn’t match up means you will have a fight there.”

Working ahead

Council received an update on a number of public works projects that have gotten an early start due to the warmer, dry weather the area has experienced this spring.

The county is ahead of the game on many of its blading and road repairs as well as finishing up the final touches on the Anderson bridge project and crews are waiting for things to settle somewhat on roads before getting to work on the chip sealing of those areas.

As well, the department has received its three new graders and the old ones are set to be auctioned off this week with the county guaranteed to get at least $315,000 and 80 per cent of the money over that price.

Tax defaults

Cutforth provided council with an update on the situation surrounding the $440,000 in backtaxes owed by a resource company that has fallen into receivership.

It’s been learned the company could soon be sold to a new owner, however, that potential new owner wouldn’t be on the hook for the taxes owing. Although, Cutforth stated the county’s lawyer explained they have a decent argument that the county would have priority over any other creditors in the bankruptcy due to wording in the Municipal Government Act.

“However, that has been untested so a judge still has to decide on that,” added Cutforth, so there remains a chance the county may not see any of that money.

He also told council a second company has fallen into bankruptcy and owes about $4.600 in taxes, but owes more to another 11 counties in the province, which indicates to Cutforth that this is now a much bigger problem and has approached the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) to see if they will get involved in the legal fight instead of each individual county having to go it alone.