Mayor Rick Bonnett wants the education tax to help build a new field house in Ponoka.
Plans to work with Ponoka County to build a new wellness centre fell through after hearing the province would only help fund the program through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI).
Having to use MSI funding, rather than an additional grant from the province, council was left with the decision to take the MSI funding and lose out on other capital projects, or call it off altogether.
That fund has been confirmed to municipalities until 2019 and it is generally used for much-needed infrastructure projects. Applying it to the wellness centre would take away from several important projects.
Bonnett is going to try a different tack; with council’s approval, he’s going to attempt to negotiate with the province to use the town’s school requisition tax over a three-year period.
During council’s regular meeting Oct. 9, Bonnett asked council’s permission to move ahead with the negotiation, which was approved.
The request to negotiate this type of funding may not go very far as the school requisition is under the School Act, however, Bonnett suggests that the province has the money despite saying it doesn’t.
An Oct. 5 letter to the town from Shaye Anderson, Minister of Municipal Affairs, states that, “Given Alberta’s current fiscal situation, new spending of this magnitude is not feasible.”
It further stated that the town had until Oct. 12 to make a decision on whether on not to use the MSI funding as the province proposed.
Where Bonnett took issue was that the federal government is providing the province $3.39 billion over 10 years for large projects through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). Within that program is $140.6 million for community, culture and recreation projects. Ponoka’s falls under that category.
Additionally, Bonnett feels the town has taken all the necessary steps such as working with other communities (Stettler and Ponoka County) and getting corporate support for the project.
He wants three years of the town’s education tax funding to cover the province’s portion of the project. Despite receiving support from the federal government, the province’s support using MSI was hard to take.
“They are reneging on their obligation,” he stated.
“The provincial government was a signatory to the funding model (ICIP)…of 40 per cent from the feds, 30 per cent from the province and the remaining to the municipalities.” said Bonnett.
For the school requisition, the town allocates $1.7 million from property taxes that go directly to the province. Bonnett says three years of that money would put the town in a position where it could build a new wellness centre. He said that the federal government has already approved $6 million for the project.
After the three years, Bonnett said the school requisition would return to the province as normal. He added that the town is shovel ready and has done everything that it was told to do, and yet the provincial funding doesn’t come as a grant, but with money already allocated to Ponoka.
“(For) the education portion, we assess, we collect, and we send them a cheque on a quarterly basis to the school boards,” said Bonnett.
Coun. Kevin Ferguson is a former teacher who spoke in favour of the motion, however, he made the point that this would not shut schools down. Speaking from notes, Ferguson said that while council’s motion may seem foolhardy, it’s an act of desperation to move forward with a project that has been in the works for some years.
He said this process is about calling the province to account.
“Thus we are faced with impossible dilemmas, and continue on a perpetual downward spiral that all rural Alberta communities seem to be riding down,” said Ferguson.
“Frankly in my one year on council this is what bothers me the most: the complete neglect of rural communities in Alberta.”
Ferguson challenged two political leaders in Alberta.
“These two consume most of the oxygen in Alberta, and need to hear this. Where are you Rachel Notley? Where are you Jason Kenney? We need much more than platitudes and warm fuzzy speeches. While the rhetoric makes everyone feel good: the hard truth is that communities in rural Alberta are slowly starving to death.”
Mayor Rick Bonnett did have a meeting with the ministry on Oct. 16, however, results of that meeting were not available at press time.
CAO Albert Flootman recommended against the action as the requisition is part of the School Act.