Ponoka County to get small portion back from legal challenge

Sunken bridge to stay as-is

It may be just a token amount, but council felt it would be irresponsible to not recover what has been awarded to Ponoka County.

At their April 28 meeting, held via conference call, council accepted a recommendation that administration undertake obtaining the $5,600 in eligible costs that the court awarded the county after the Ponoka Right to Farm group had its legal challenge of the Northwest Area Structure Plan dismissed.

The county actually spent around $145,000 in legal fees during the more than year-long battle, which came to an end with the April 20 decision in Court of Queen’s Bench in Wetaskiwin.

Reeve Paul McLauchlin believes that despite the costs awarded being, “not a tremendous amount compared to the remainder that this has cost, we are obligated to look at this as taxpayers money and if we have the ability to recoup any costs, I think we should pursue it.”

The rest of council agreed, with Coun. Doug Weir summarizing the discussion nicely.

“I think we would be greatly remiss and irresponsible if we didn’t proceed in collecting this money if we can. We are out $140,000 that didn’t need to be spent,” he said.

Roads update

There will be some work being done by the county’s public works crews over the next couple of months in spite of the financial pressures all municipalities are facing.

Council approved moving forward three projects that public works superintendent Herb Schwingel spoke to in his presentation.

The first is completing one-half mile of construction on Range Road 24 north of Township Road 440 that was not finished last year. The second is the construction of a new cell at the Bluffton landfill and the third is work necessary for the Wolf Creek diversion and bank stabilization.

There was some discussion regarding possible savings from the county’s annual chip seal and dust control programs. However, council was convinced to keep it as is, since it would cost far more in future repairs and maintenance than would be saved in the 2020 budget of $1.6 million.

Council did determine that other new projects would not go ahead until it is confirmed that funding is in place.

These projects include: a rebuild of two miles of RR 24 north of Twnp 444, rebuilding five miles of Wooddale Road (Twnp 424), repair of Medicine Lake Road (Twnp 432), paving of 2.5 miles of Bobtail Road (Twnp 434) and the three bridge projects on Hoadley Road (Twnp 450), Bobtail Road and Springdale Road (RR 22).

Not moving ahead on those projects would mean the county could save up to $5 million.

“This situation is quite fluid, but as new circumstances come up or if there are new announcements from the province, we will come back to council right away with any proposals or changes,” said CAO Charlie Cutforth.

“It’s too premature to judge whether the county will be facing a serious financial issue at year-end. I’ve talked to some larger energy companies and they are all extremely appreciative of the county’s dealing of their current financial situation.”

He added that at least one company is looking into which municipality to pay and were impressed with council’s decision on a discount.

“That said, I’m relatively optimistic that by year-end things may not be as bleak,” Cutforth said.

Council did give the go-ahead for administration to purchase an estimated 20 tonnes of gravel from the Ferrybank Hutterite colony

Previous decisions

At their April 14 meeting, council determined it will leave the current sunken bridge on Range Road 263 as is.

A discussion was held on the viability of the bridge following an incident earlier this spring, where a driver was misdirected by GPS and ended up going off the roadway due to an ice build up.

Cutforth explained public works staff and administration looked at various options, but in the end recommended leaving it as is.

The reasons include costs upwards of $140,000 to remove the current crossing made up of culverts encased in concrete, no guarantee closure of the road would be considered by Alberta Transportation plus the huge costs and obstacles from two levels of government environment officials to get a bridge constructed compared to the minimal traffic the road presently sees.

County director of operations Peter Hall added several months ago the county sent an updated road map to Google to help prevent this type of incident. However, that work is going very slowly, though he will contact them again to see what progress has been made.

Council also passed its annual mill rate schedule, leaving it the same as in 2019 — residential 1.69; farmland 5.995; and non-residential 10.82. The figures haven’t changed since 2012 and council felt now wasn’t the right time to make any changes.

As part of that discussion, council approved the partial cancellation of taxes for small businesses in the county. This is done annually to make it more fair, instead of paying the same amount at much larger commercial properties.

Ponoka County

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