A substantial change to the funding model has seen Ponoka County turn back on its support for a grant application for a new field house project. It completely disagrees with the province’s announcement that municipalities use MSI funds as the Alberta government’s share. File photo

Ponoka County tosses back interest in fieldhouse project

Council takes back expression of interest after province changes how it would pay its share

A change in how the game is played regarding project funding resulted in Ponoka County taking a step back from a recent decision to support building a new recreation facility.

Council, at its Sept. 11 meeting, determined it would be in the best interest of the county to pull out of the deal citing a significant departure in the program funding model — with the province recently announcing its financial share will come out of funds it provides to municipalities.

“The province announced its (one-third) share would have to come from MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) that has been provided to municipalities for at least a decade,” explained CAO Charlie Cutforth.

“We’ve used those funds to pay for some major infrastructure work as well as provide financial support to various other community projects and organizations.”

Aug. 14 (see story below), the county was approached by the Town of Ponoka about a partnership with the town and county of Stettler to put forward the field house project through the Canada Infrastructure Program — where each level of government provides one-third funding.

READ: Ponoka County hitches onto field house idea

The county’s share was to be $1.735 million, but that is now off the table as council voted to retract that expression of interest. Council also included a mention that it wholly opposes the changed funding model and any use of MSI funding to pay for the province’s share of any program.

“You allocate money for another purpose. It’s like giving a kid an allowance and taking it back in rent. It’s using Mastercard to pay Visa, it doesn’t work,” said Reeve Paul McLauchlin.

“This is proof the province is broke.”

McLauchlin, who is also a director for the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), added that both associations that represent municipalities have written strong letters to Municipal Affairs admonishing the province.

“You can’t use MSI as a provincial contribution. You can’t give someone a contribution and have all these caveats on what it can be used for,” he stated.

“It’s a big deal that changes everything. The precedence for using it that way is a huge trap. It’s not their money, MSI is our money.”

Another factor in the flip on the field house is what moving forward would have potentially cost.

Cutforth said that for 2019 the county’s MSI funding is being slashed to $1.9 million from $3 million. That means projects like Menaik Road that was done with MSI, and contributions put toward items like the Rimbey Agri-Centre or area youth groups may see less funds or even none at all.

“If we had to pay for the province’s share — around $4 million — there isn’t enough in one year to cover that share, even with the two communities combined,” he noted.

“To me, that is not what the federal government set up the program to be. Every other province sees their government step up with their share.”

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