Agreements with neighbours was the dominant topic at the most recent meeting of Ponoka County council.
The meeting held Jan. 9 saw council formally adopt a pair of intermunicipal collaboration framework (ICF) agreements with the counties of Wetaskiwin and Camrose. Bylaws to accept the conditions of the agreements were approved unanimously and go with the intermunicipal development plan (IDP) agreements that were reached with the two counties last fall.
However, talk about these two bylaws led to a significant discussion regarding an ICF and IDP with the towns of Ponoka and Rimbey as well as with the counties of Clearwater and Lacombe, mostly so CAO Charlie Cutforth could get some clarification from council on the direction he should take in negotiations.
He noted that roads are the biggest issue Ponoka County faces with its county neighbours to the west and south, while things are not so clear with the two towns.
“We need to keep in mind that we have to come up with ideas on an IDP first before collaborating (with the towns) and that’s the idea we are getting from the province,” Cutforth told council.
“The question is — both towns are anxious to do this, but for us, is it reasonable to hold negotiations with both (towns) at the same time independently or pick one to go at first.”
Ideally, Cutforth stated he would rather deal with one first before talking to the other based upon the variety of differences between each community.
“It would make the whole process convoluted if we attempted to conduct both (negotiations) at the same time,” he added.
Coun. Mark Matejka said talking to both at once would see the county pulled in two directions with each knowing full well that if one town reaches an agreement first it would set a precedent for the other.
“And they don’t want that, since they both think they are the centre of the world,” he joked.
Cutforth stated it was his view, and what he thought council would prefer, that management do the ground work regarding ideas and subjects then bring those to council for discussion. He also noted that one town suggested starting a committee of elected officials to start negotiations right out of the gate.
“That does not make any sense. None of the councils have all of the information at hand and it’s all about money,” said Reeve Paul McLauchlin.
“Do any of us know off-hand what the budget is for anything?”
If the councils were that involved, Cutforth worries the process would become very onerous, even though the two-year timeline to complete the agreements means taking extra time isn’t critical for the county in order to get it right.
“I think our direction is for administration to work on the IDPs and then work on the details of the ICFs for our discussion,” McLauchlin said.
“Administration deals with it until it comes to a spot where the politicians need to get involved. The last time we had a handshake deal, it fell apart anyway. We don’t want politicians negotiating.”
McLauchlin may have been referring to the previous Town of Ponoka council and fire services discussions.
Cutforth also suggested a few topics — including recreation, agricultural facilities, policing and community donations — be a part of the discussions.
McLauchlin also believes the expectation from both towns are exceedingly high and that both town’s facts and financial data don’t quite add up to those expectations.
“(The towns) are seeing a change in how they do business,” he said.
“The county has done a poor job of defending ourselves as strong as we should have that (people say) we don’t pay enough. But, if you talk to every service group, we are the most generous. That’s always been the grumbling — is that the county doesn’t pay its way.”
As part of the discussion, Matejka wanted to make sure all of the county’s contributions — money and in-kind — are well known and that administration should be tracking them for use in these negotiations. Cutforth noted monetary donations are tracked and that it’s a good idea to know what in-kind work is being done and the value of it. Administration will now record and report annually on all county contributions made.