Ponoka town council backed down from its motion to withhold the education portion of its property taxes.
Mayor Rick Bonnett announced the rescinding of the original Nov. 27, 2018 motion during council’s March 12 meeting. However, the new motion retained the request that Ponoka and Stettler be sent the 40 per cent federal portion of the infrastructure grant application for its fieldhouse project.
The original application had the provincial share at 27 per cent and the overall municipal 33 per cent share split four-ways between the two towns and the counties of Stettler and Ponoka.
The motion passed by a 4-2 vote, with Bonnett and Coun. Teri Underhill opposing. Coun. Carla Prediger was in attendance via phone, failed to cast her opposing vote in time.
Bonnett explained the motion was an attempt to retain the town’s tax base, to let government know that Alberta benefits from helping its rural communities and that the status quo isn’t working.
“The purpose of our motion was to unite Albertans and reach out to other communities to stand up for change. We will not give up the battle, but we will take another approach at this time. I believe that council does not want to get on the wrong side of the law and I don’t believe our citizens want us to either,” he stated.
“Sometimes someone needs to make a stand to institute change and time will tell if we have ignited a spark. This council will continue its efforts through our lobbying organizations and try to empower our colleagues in other communities to stand up and let their voices be heard for the change we all desire.”
The Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grant funding is another bone of contention for Bonnett — as he noted it only allows the town to spend those funds on projects the government approves of.
“We send approximately $2.3 million of our citizens’ taxes to them and they send us about $1.4 million in return, if they agree with our plans of what we are going to spend it on.”
“They seem to think they know what our citizens’ wants and needs are without ever stepping foot in our local communities,” Bonnett said, adding the difference would limit the need for provincial grant programs.
“Being a member of council for the past nine years, I’ve heard governments every year tell us communities at conferences, giving us lip service; that we are truly partners in government and that they only want to be there for us at every turn, which has always been a false statement,” he stated.
He went further, noting that municipalities do all of the heavy lifting of collecting and performing assessments while getting little more than, “a hope and a prayer they will give us some money back.”
Having communities retain their own tax base could decrease the size of government and redirect those savings into places like education, he said.
Bonnett wants to see the province do more to help rural areas drive the economy forward as it has in the past.
“Cities have the easiest and the most excessive tax base. Stop only catering to their needs as we need economic growth to become sustainable in rural Alberta to keep it strong — because rural Alberta is where our economic power begins,” Bonnett noted.
He thanked council for taking a stand to let the government know smaller communities do matter, while also acknowledging the support from a variety of other communities that Ponoka has gotten since it made the decision to challenge the province on the issue.
The subject came up in the meeting’s public forum portion from resident Doug Gill, who questioned the wisdom of withholding the taxes.