By Adam Eisenbarth
The Town of Ponoka is looking well into the future and preparing for the growth of the community.
The town is in the process of annexing 1,614 acres of land from the Ponoka County and Ponoka CAO Brad Watson isn’t surprised by the slow pace of annexation.
“It’s a very long process. We understood that going into this when the initial concept was undertaken.”
While many affected landowners are concerned, Watson and Mayor Larry Henkelman are working with the county residents to iron out the issues and help smooth over the process.
“Our consultant will be in, in the first part of September, and that will help to clear up any issues (for any of the affected landowners.)”
The town has released a growth study that uses a one-per-cent growth rate to project the town is growth to a population in the area of 11,367 to 14,834 by 2061.
“We do have plans in place for the land. It’s all described in the growth study,” said Watson.
The town has strategically chosen land to the west to annex for several reasons. They intend to grow industrial areas, residential and recreational use.
Landowners not pleased
The process of annexation for Ponoka doesn’t appear to be seamless. Several affected ratepayers are joining together to fight the proposed annexation, citing several issues that the change will make for them, and that it is unnecessary to annex this amount of land right now.
More than 30 affected landowners attended a meeting of the Ponoka County and Town Taxpayers Coalition at the Ponoka County Office on Aug. 17 to see what they can do to prevent the annexation from going through.
“(This group) was put in place about 18 or 19 months ago when the first mention of annexation came to our notice,” said chairman Robert MacKenzie.
MacKenzie’s goal was to give the landowners more education on the annexation.
“The purpose of this meeting tonight is to inform the landowners within the proposed annexation area of the process taken to this point in time. There is much to be discussed here tonight.”
For Debbie Nicol, it’s not so much the annexation process that is the issue. Instead she’s upset the process is starting when there is plenty of land for the town to grow on without the annexation.
“We don’t want it to seem like we don’t want the town to grow because the town really needs to make progress and we haven’t seen much of it and the county has agreed that if there is a place that you need to develop, definitely, they’ll let you have it.”
“In the Municipal Government Act there is a sentence that says annexation cannot be solely for financial gain and I don’t understand how this annexation is anything but a financial gain. They have land all over town that hasn’t been developed.”
Vice-chairman Ian Nicol went through several issues that he has with the annexation. He is concerned his way of life is at risk.
“When you’re in town you follow town laws, when you’re in county you follow county laws. Well, the town has a bylaw that there will be no animals in town like horses and cows. When I brought that up they said, ‘Don’t worry about it we’ll work around that.’ Fair enough. But everything is subject to change within any kind of government so someone may co-operate on this council, but in 10 years who knows? Maybe someone says, ‘let’s amend that and make a bylaw to stop that.’ I don’t know, how do you guarantee that?”
Nicol also wondered how the town will manage issues such as garbage disposal.
“In town they pick up your garbage. In county we take our garbage to the county dump. When I asked a question about that I was told, ‘You can still use the county dump.’ Well I asked (CAO Charlie Cutforth) about that and they said, when you’re in town you use town services, when you’re in county you use county services. There is no going back and forth. The town didn’t realize that and now they’re saying we can use the town dump for 10 years at no cost. So at the end of 10 years we all have to pay a dump charge.”
He is also frustrated with having to tie into the town’s sewer system.
“I’ve got good water and my sewer is brand new. I really don’t need to change it but that’s part of the agreement.”
Snow removal is also a question and Nicol believes that people in town should be concerned about the possibility of higher taxes as the town will need more equipment to deal with issues such as snow removal and gravel road maintenance.
“I’ve said they don’t have the equipment for this. So then who pays for that? Well we don’t have to worry about it for 10 years (because of the grandfather clause) so it’s got to be the people in town.”
Nicol also pointed out that while the annexed landowners seem to get a lot of negatives in this deal, they’re not going to be getting any benefits along the way either.
“In town they have the little things like high-speed Internet and cable TV and we asked the town, well do we get that if we get annexed? Well no, it’s not that easy, and not right away. Well are we going to get it in 10 years? Well, they can’t answer that stuff.”
Nicol doesn’t see how this benefits him or the other affected landowners and encouraged people to stand together and fight the issue.
“We’re being told of this 50-year plan and by the looks of it I don’t think any of us are going to be here in 50 years, so why do I want to agree to something that is way beyond my life expectancy. This is affecting us now, not in 50 years.”
Terry Gorrell was concerned with the wording of a letter sent to landowners. He believes the information from the town is not definite.
“I read this letter over and it really is alarming the way it is written. All of these sentences use the word ‘may.’ They don’t use ‘will’ or ‘shall.’ Nothing is definite here and I just wanted to draw attention to it.”
The town was hoping to have everything in place by January, but with so many opposed it will likely become a longer process. Nicol and the upset landowners believe they have a chance to at least reduce the size of the annexation.
“There is nothing according to the Municipal Government Board that says this is a done deal if the Town of Ponoka wants it. We have a voice. We have a right to say we don’t want it. Does that mean it’s not going to happen? I can’t say that, but if we don’t try as a group, it will happen.”