The process of gathering more information on a cannabis production operation in Ponoka County will continue.
On Mar. 20, council had requested administration look into how the proposed operation, located on county owned land on the west side of Highway 2A across from Maskwacis, would deal with waste and other issues such as water and sewer.
As a follow up, assistant CAO Tom Webber appeared at the April 9 meeting with an update, but left with yet another request for more details about the proposal.
Webber noted the owner of Micro Grow did come back with letters from the gas and electrical utility providers that stated there is more than enough capacity to supply the facility. However, he explained the big issue remains the lack of a water supply.
“There is no water on site and the Samson (First Nation) band will not allow them to tie into their water system,” he told council.
“Furthermore though, the owner states that water is too hard and not conducive to be used in cannabis production.”
The long since demolished restaurant that was on that site had been fed by that system.
The county does operate a small system serving some homes and businesses in the area, but Webber stated it wouldn’t be expanded to that property and wouldn’t be adequate to service the needs of the operation anyway.
As a work-around, Webber added the owner is proposing to truck in water to a storage tank on site that will be used to water the plants. Any waste would be pumped into a septic tank.
Coun. Doug Weir questioned if the denial by the Samson First Nation was a rebuke of the proposal, but CAO Charlie Cutforth explained that is how it has been historically.
“We have attempted in the past to get a franchise agreement with them because we have a number of lots and businesses out there as all we have out there is one well that is not a good system,” he said.
“And nothing has changed since.”
For Reeve Paul McLauchlin, the issues are just how much water would be needed annually and what would be available for use in case of a fire, something Coun. Bryce Liddle was also curious about.
Webber explained that the fire department in Maskwacis would likely be the initial response, as the county does have a mutual aid agreement with them, but that the county is ultimately responsible for that area.
Despite the lack of water, Webber believes the real question is the longevity of the business.
“If it only lasts a couple of years, then all of a sudden there is a 5,000 square foot warehouse that would be virtually useless with no water,” Webber said.
In the end, council directed administration to go back and find out what the business has planned for water use, sewer and fire protection capacity.
Council also approved its annual cancellation of a portion of taxes paid by small businesses operating in the county to the tune of $210,000.
Cutforth explained this is done to bring down the applicable tax rate to these rather small commercial operations since the province maintained that all businesses, regardless of size, must pay the same rate.
“It’s never been deemed fair that these small, mostly home operated businesses be charged at the same rate as the oil and gas operations. And as council has the ability to cancel a portion of those taxes, council has cancelled an amount equal to what it’s felt the rate should be,” he said.
He added this will likely be the final year the county has to do this, as the Municipal Government Act has been changed to allow the county to have separate tax classifications for each commercial category.
On a similar note, council also approved the annual mill rates for the county as well as wrote off about $54,000 in outstanding taxes and penalties owed.
The mill rates will remain at the same levels they have been at for the past few years: residential 1.69, farmland 5.995 and non-residential, linear plus machinery and equipment all at 10.82.
The write-offs include money that was expected from provincial government drilling revenue based on exploration permits handed out, but the drilling was never done so there was no actual revenue.