By George Brown
Ponoka town council is now proposing a much smaller annexation that will still serve its future growth needs while encountering less opposition from affected landowners.
Once intended to consume parts of 12 quarter sections of neighbouring Ponoka County land zoned for a variety of uses, the Town of Ponoka now plans to annex just 902 acres or about 5.5 quarters to serve a population estimated to be 13,000 in 50 years.
By paring down its annexation proposal, town council hopes to enjoy the endorsement of county council and the majority of current landowners.
Ponoka CAO Brad Watson told a small gathering of urban and rural residents July 13 that of the 19 landowners affected by the proposed annexation, 17 now support the application, one is indifferent and one is opposed. Council is still holding out hope it can achieve complete support for its application and avoid a provincial Municipal Government Board (MGB) hearing.
John Rusling, a planner with Armin A. Preiksaitis and Associates Ltd., the community planning consultant engaged by the town to prepare a growth study and the resulting annexation proposal, said 100-per-cent support is not a requirement “but certainly the board wants to see a good, solid majority in support.”
“They’ve done a superb job,” Rusling said of town council’s work. “A year ago there was a tremendous amount of opposition to the idea of annexation.”
Mayor Larry Henkelman said council is still working to get the last holdout on side.
“Council made a large number of changes to achieve a higher consent to the annexation,” he explained. “There were a lot of issues that were resolved.
“At the beginning of the annexation (process) there were a lot of parcels that were included in the annexation that are no longer included.”
Purpose of growth study
Rusling explained the Town of Ponoka Growth Study (2009-2061) was presented to council a year ago and had four basic goals:
• look at the town’s growth and predict the population of Ponoka in the next 30, 40 and 50 years;
• identify how much residential, commercial and industrial land is going to be required to accommodate the town’s growth in 30, 40 and 50 years;
• evaluate potential growth corridors for the town that are potentially suitable for annexation;
• propose a 50-year growth area for the Town of Ponoka.
“Our starting point was to look at the town’s growth history,” Rusling said.
“Every five years the town’s population is going up by about 6.8 per cent, so not quite 1.5 per cent growth every year.”
Compared with other Highway 2 corridor communities, Ponoka’s growth has not been keeping up; and one reason is their access and visibility to the highway, he explained.
A moderate growth rate was chosen to extrapolate Ponoka’s future population and the land base required to service that population.
“This annexation that we’re going to be taking to the Municipal Government Board is a 50-year annexation,” Rusling said. That growth estimate requires 902 acres or about five quarter sections.
Despite the existence of undeveloped, vacant land in town now, Rusling said there is a need for additional business land in Ponoka.
“It is very important in town council’s view that annexation happens to the west so there is exposure to the Highway 2 corridor,” he said. “Visibility from the highway corridor is an important asset.”
This latest proposal identifies three areas for annexation, for a variety of uses: about four quarter sections of land from the current west boundary of Ponoka to Highway 2, to be developed for industrial and commercial expansion; a quarter south of the Ponoka Stampede Grounds, east of Highway 2A and north of the river, to be developed for recreation use and stampede expansion; and a third area at the far southeast corner of town, the proposed Caledera residential development.
Rusling said the MGB wants to see a long-range plan that is a product of intermunicipal co-operation. “They want the town to prove they need the land. They want the growth to be a logical extension of the existing town boundaries.”
Watson explained that many of the county landowners would actually see a mill rate reduction should they become under the jurisdiction of the Town of Ponoka. As a concession for their support of the annexation bid, affected properties would be taxed at the lower of the Town of Ponoka or Ponoka County rate for the next 15 years as long as the land is not rezoned or connected to municipal utility services.
“Annexations that are tax grabs are put under the microscope by the Municipal Government Board,” added Rusling. “This is not an annexation that fits into the category.”
Watson said the proposed assessment transfer would represent 0.17 per cent of the county’s total $2.4 billion assessment, and an increase of 0.57 per cent on the town’s assessment of $708 million.
Because there are only six residences involved in the annexation, there would be little cost to the Town of Ponoka to provide basic services — about $6,000 annually for four seasons of road maintenance.
“You could compare it to have six homes built in town; our costs wouldn’t substantially increase,” explained Betty Quinlan, director of corporate services.
In return, the town estimates the new residents would benefit from Ponoka’s municipal services to the tune of $19,000.
Town’s needs inflated?
Nick Kohlman said the town’s annexation needs are based on flawed calculations that are “making your final figures quite inaccurate.”
He said the growth study portrays some undeveloped parcels in town as either developed or undevelopable, subtracts that amount of land from the equation to inflate the need for more land.
As an example, Kohlman identified the land south of Ponoka Chrysler. “Everyone in Ponoka knows that quarter is not fully developed industrial land…and you don’t include it as developable industrial land, which it clearly is. So you are almost doubling your requirement factor for industrial land, which is quite inaccurate.”
Rusling said Kohlman’s conclusions were not correct but he could not recall of the top of his head the factors for the calculations but promised to explain them to Kohlman later.
Kohlman also questioned the town’s contention that developers and not taxpayers would fund the extension of municipal services out to Highway2.
“The first party in, they pay the cost,” Watson said. The town might be involved in negotiations to pay the oversize costs to accommodate future stages of development but those costs would be recouped from developers.
“This is bad planning,” Kohlman said. “This is just not practical.”
Mayor Larry Henkelman and Coun. Doug Gill attended the July 20 Ponoka County meeting and received council’s support for the town’s annexation application.