Don’t hold your breath for a multiplex in Ponoka

This opinion piece discusses relations with Town and County of Ponoka and the future of a multiplex.

Town and county residents might be waiting for a long time for a multi-use recreation complex if Town and County of Ponoka leaders can’t sort out their problems.

The two groups have not been able to come to an agreement over shared operations of the Ponoka Fire Department — a pittance compared to what it would take to build and maintain a multiplex — so how could they work together to create one?

One can only imagine how reluctant the county will be if the town asks for help paying for a multi-million dollar project. Could they have any say in its operations? The town’s actions tend to indicate that the answer will look like more of a negative one.

Trust is at an all time low between the two entities and one cannot blame Ponoka County administration for feeling distrustful. Despite paying half of the Ponoka Fire Department’s costs, the county has recently been refused to have a say in its operations, which is a proverbial slap in the face.

Town of Ponoka CAO has offered the position of fire chief to a new individual, but was the county involved in that process? It seems pretty clear the county CAO and administration were not consulted during the recruitment process.

The county has already given notice to the town that it is pulling out of its fire protection service agreement next year. That agreement has been in place since 1979 and will leave the new fire chief, set to start in July, with a different set of problems. The town and the county met recently to discuss servicing levels of the fire department, but the outlook from that meeting does not appear to be promising.

Collaboration is essential to meeting the needs/wants of town residents and people of the county. With both parties on board to develop the building, there is likely to be a greater opportunity to pool resources and give both and town and county residents a great facility. Indeed, the county already contributes operating funds to existing town facilities as county residents use them.

The town needs the county to be on board, yet town councillors appear unwilling to get past their own personal anger or frustration. Most recently, County Coun. Mark Matejka attended a town meeting and expressed his concern over an issue with the Ponoka Gymnastics and Trampoline Club.

Relations worsened when the town delayed on its promise to give the land to the gym club, essentially blaming the county in a public document for not transferring land title documents. Contrary to this claim, the town had the title transfer in its possession since last fall.

Paying for large projects is a problem all municipalities have and with only one source of taxation revenue, ensuring the availability of those funds becomes a matter of balancing between raising taxes and fundraising efforts.

Mayor Rick Bonnett has expressed his wish that the provincial government gave municipalities more authority at taxation. Yet town council and administration were unable to follow through with two motions in 2014 to work with the gym club and that inefficiency caused those motions to be rescinded recently.

If town administration and council cannot follow through with those requests in a proper and orderly manner, then one can easily realize why the province is reluctant to give a municipality that kind of power.

Building one awesome, big-as-you-can-imagine recreation building will be impossible without the two municipalities working together on a singular vision and if anyone thinks the town won’t be knocking on the county’s door with cap in hand, they would be dead wrong.

If town management were truly concerned about working with the county and future development of a multiplex, they would have taken into account the county’s thoughts on the Ponoka Fire Department.

Town council would have expressed its desire to see the two groups work together and would have given direction to its CAO to see that it gets done and an agreement would be in the works, but instead the two groups couldn’t be farther apart.

When one reads between the lines, it’s not hard to see the possibility of two separate fire departments in operation in the near future; two sets of firefighters, two fire halls and two fire chiefs, duplicated infrastructure and strained resources. How many emergency calls would the town be left with if they split?

The two municipalities have different constituents to serve, but similar goals and servicing needs, but if they cannot work together on a seemingly small issue like managing the fire and rescue services, then the possibility of a multiplex is likely going to sit on the backburner for a long time, and residents are the ones who are going to suffer.

It may not be too late to stem the tide and repair damaged relations. But the urge should come from residents speaking as one united voice: find a way to make it work.