Motion for mediation on fire services agreement defeated

Too little too late says one councillor about idea to revisit joining regional fire protection agreement

A belated motion by Coun. Loanna Gulka to seek mediation for a fire services agreement with Ponoka County didn’t go very far after some councillors felt it was too little too late.

Gulka made the motion Tuesday, Feb. 8 during town council’s regular meeting, where she requested the town and county councils and CAOs work something out with the office of the Alberta Fire Commissioner.

“I thought we had worked very hard together with the county council and I thought we had come up with an agreement in principle,” said Gulka of past dealings with the county. “But that seemed to disappear and I don’t know where it went.”

She gave four reasons why she voted against the proposal to regionalize in January:

The proposal was given only just prior to being asked for a decision;

No representative from the county was present at town council’s meeting;

Definitions of the agreement were not attached to the proposal;

There were no guidelines as to how an advisory committee would work.

She added that communication between the town and county council was poor and this did not help.

Mayor Rick Bonnett said he had spoken with Reeve Paul McLauchlin about the potential of mediation. Bonnett passed on that the Reeve said the door is always open but that Ponoka County has already made a decision after town council voted 4-3 against a regional system.

Coun. Teri Underhill took issue with the motion.

“We knew this was coming in January why now a month later are we looking at doing something?” Underhill asked.

“Too little, too late. People are up in arms,” she stated.

Coun. Marc Yaworski, who voted against regionalization, said that there was little information for town council to move forward. “All we had was a piece of paper from our CAO. Take it or leave it. That was the understanding at this table that night.”

Bonnett made a point of order to the discussion stating that council always makes a motion and leaves developing the plans to the CAO.

The discussion was heated but Bonnett only allowed questions on the motion rather than have councillors debate back and forth over what happened. Yaworski and Gulka voted in favour of the motion with Bonnett, Underhill, Councillors Sandra Lyon and Tim Falkiner voting against it. Coun. Carla Prediger was not at the meeting.

County to buy fire hall in town

On the heels of Gulka’s motion was a request from Ponoka County to purchase a piece of land in town for it’s new fire hall.

The request was almost rejected.

Part of the Municipal Government Act requires a municipality request approval for the purchase of land in another municipality as that municipality would be tax exempt. The property is close to Highway 53 within the town limits, said new CAO Albert Flootman and he recommended the approval.

Coun. Tim Falkiner spoke against the request stating the county did not need to go this direction. “They basically walked away from our agreement. We have a fire department that is exceptional.”

Gulka’s concern was over lost taxes. “My concerns are, as I’ve said, that it’s not taxable.”

She appeared to want to delay the request suggesting a water agreement between the two municipalities needs to be made but Bonnett pointed out that no one is exempt from utility costs, which would be how the water use costs are determined. “They pay a water bill just like everybody else they’re not exempt from that.”

He advised council be forward thinking saying that the two municipalities will have to have mutual aid agreements in place in the event help is needed. He said the county would have to use the town’s water if it helped the town out regardless of utilities.

The town also has property in the county land that is tax exempt said Bonnett, providing the example of the town’s waste transfer site.

For Underhill the issue was greater than water use.

“If we do not grant tax exemption, then we’re saying we’re not willing to work together,” stated Underhill.

Yaworski, Lyon, Underhill and Bonnett voted in favour while Falkiner and Gulka voted against the request.

Petition submitted to the town

Seeing that council isn’t budging on joining a regional fire services with Ponoka County, Jim Hamilton and Deb Nicol have finalized their petition for submission to town administration asking for a plebiscite unless the council backtracks on its decision to separate fire services.

Over 1,100 residents have signed the petition.

The petition was scheduled to be submitted to the town administration by Jim Hamilton at a meeting on Tuesday, as Ponoka News was being prepared for publication.

Nicol said the response from councillors to requests for a plebiscite, while indirect, showed the majority of them against a regional system.

Both Hamilton and Nicol stated simply they want council to go to a regional system.

“Emotions were quite strong again tonight just talking about it,” said Nicol of the council meeting on Tuesday, when they raised the request for the plebiscite.

Hamilton’s thoughts on Gulka’s motion is that “it’s closing the barn doors after the cows have left.”