A quarter-century of several local municipalities sharing the cost for land use planning services will come quietly to an end this summer.
A vote of the last three member municipalities — Ponoka County, County of Wetaskiwin and Town of Millet — at an emergency meeting on June 24 will see operations of West Central Planning Agency wound down and then dissolved as of Aug. 31.
Established in 1995 with municipal members including Ponoka and Wetaskiwin counties, towns of Rimbey, Ponoka, Millet and the City of Wetaskiwin, West Central Planning provided land use policy planning as well as expertise and advice on subdivision applications.
Several years ago, the towns of Rimbey and Ponoka left followed last year by the City of Wetaskiwin.
And then the final stake was planted in the agency, as the County of Wetaskiwin recently gave notice of its intention to leave.
Ponoka County CAO Charlie Cutforth explained the decision came down to considering certain on-going expenses.
“Technically, we could have held the County of Wetaskiwin to the one-year notice stated in the agreement, which would have had them stay a member and pay until Dec. 31, 2021,” Cutforth said.
“On the other hand, especially with the level of activity, without them it didn’t make sense.”
The two employees, who have been around 12 and 13 years respectively, will be handed some significant severance, but Cutforth explained the agency’s reserves will cover nearly all of those costs.
“However, there might be some costs toward year-end and it was suggested that the County of Wetaskiwin pick up any costs not covered through reserves,” he added.
The specific date to dissolve the agency was due to the lease on their office space ending on Aug. 31.
County of Wetaskiwin assistant CAO Jeff Chipley explained their decision came after a months-long review, released in October 2019, of county services.
“Council accepted a recommendation that a review of the current agreement with West Central be done as well as investigate opportunities for an increased level of service,” Chipley said.
“To move forward, administration distributed a request for proposal from planning service providers, which were then reviewed and interviews conducted. On June 11, council directed administration to enter into an agreement with the provider chosen and also inform West Central of its withdrawal.”
Chipley added this was inline with a recommendation in the service review and provides them with savings and other advantages over the previous service.
“The new provider generates revenue from application fees that are significantly less than West Central and does not require us to pay a retainer to have them as our subdivision authority officer,” Chipley said.
“The amounts to direct savings of approximately $41,000 annually, a number that was about to go well above $60,000 with the City of Wetaskiwin leaving as a member.
“The lack of revenues due to a slow economy and lack of subdivision applications that led to a significant depletion of (West Central’s) reserves would only have kept it afloat for a couple of years at best without major changes.”
He added the new provider — Municipal Planning Services from Edmonton — has six staff compared to two at West Central and has a process that appears to get applications completed faster, one of the efficiencies that was outlined in the review.
Meanwhile, Ponoka County council held its vote to ratify the dissolution of West Central at their meeting on July 14 and Millet voted at their council meeting the next day. The County of Wetaskiwin ratified it at their council meeting July 28.