County, town delay talks on development plan deal

Provincial changes mean municipalities can push IDPs past April deadline

A motion that will push discussions about the Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP) until at least next May was approved by county council during their Dec. 10 meeting.

Originally, the IDP and its companion agreement — the Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF) — were supposed to be completed with municipal neighbours by April.

However, the new provincial government’s Bill 25 — Red Tape Reduction Act— was given royal assent Dec. 5 and now allows municipalities to complete an IDP after their ICF has been ratified by the April 1 deadline.

The delay was brought forward by CAO Charlie Cutforth as the county and the Town of Ponoka are far apart on the details of the IDP and a committee with members of both councils has been struck to work on the ICF, which is where the most contentious monetary issues will come from.

Cutforth said the delay was necessary as town administration feels it has to reinvent the current IDP, including their own mapping of the affected areas, which has been in place for more than 15 years and one the county believes is working.

“Discussions have bogged down over the process, and with what’s been proposed, we would never make the April 1 deadline,” he said.

One more year?

Council accepted the 2020 budget for the West Central Planning Agency (WCPA), the partnership with the Millet and the County of Wetaskiwin that conducts land use planning and administration for the three municipalities.

The City of Wetaskiwin left the partnership as of the end of 2019 and combined with less revenue from fewer projects, the WCPA was forced to use nearly $86,000 from their $235,000 operating reserve to balance its budget. This is due to a loss of $30,000 in base fees and an estimated drop of close to $60,000 in subdivision fees.

Cutforth added that the County of Wetaskiwin has also been looking closely at how their planning services operates and is contemplating leaving the partnership.

“Without them, does it make sense for Ponoka County and Millet to make a go of it and also have to make up that share of the costs and revenue? It probably wouldn’t make sense at that point to continue the agency,” Cutforth said.

“So if they were to give notice, then it should probably be done by mutual agreement of the three parties. And, maybe there would be some options.”

Coun. Doug Weir believes over the next six months that steps need to be taken to address different scenarios should it become clear that the WCPA may no longer be feasible.

New budget

Council approved an interim 2020 budget to keep the county operational until it passes its finalized operating budget in March.

Cutforth explained it simply grants bridge funding to be spent for salaries, normal business and emergencies.

He added there are no capital spending projects done in those first few months, so there really is no issue with not having an approved budget in place.

So long FCM

After having approved membership a year ago, council declined to renew its status with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

While the decision will only save about $5,000 overall — a $2,500 member fee plus costs for attending the annual conference — there was little appetite to pay for something that brings little-to-no benefit for the county’s taxpayers.

Reeve Paul McLauchlin was glad to have gone to the 2019 conference, but wasn’t sure he brought back anything of value to the county.

That said, the rest of council had less than lukewarm feelings about the future impact for the county, choosing instead to let the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) continue to lobby on their behalf at that level. McLauchlin is also a director on the RMA board.

“I think that is why you are on the RMA board and that’s what they go there for, to represent Alberta. Each of us don’t have to go because that’s what the RMA is for,” Coun. Mark Matejka said.

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