OPINION: Ponoka’s issues with education tax are not unique

It’s unclear at this time if council’s decision to take on the province will work

Ponoka is not the only municipality to take issue with how the province receives the education tax.

What’s different is that this is the first time any municipality has taken on the province about it. Seeing that no provincial grant funding is available to Ponoka over a new field house (except through MSI grants generally used for infrastructure needs), the town has threatened to withhold the province’s portion of the education tax that pays for schools.

Will the town be successful in its bid to secure funds for the field house using this method? Unlikely.

The frustration of councillors is understandable though considering they’ve done everything they were told and then be stopped in their tracks with claims that the well is dry.

Financially that’s probably true. The province is broke, and with Alberta oil sitting at just over a dozen dollars a barrel in November, it’s really broke. The 8.7 per cent cut to Alberta’s oil production may help the situation.

One can see the struggle for council, however, when the province announced $700 million for the Calgary Olympics and then it turns around and promises to split $500 million in infrastructure funds to the cities of Calgary and Edmonton, it causes one to raise an eyebrow.

Clearly the province sees the $500 million as a long-term investment as much of the commerce flowing through the province happens in the cities. But it also calls into question government priorities.

What the town is asking for is $4.5 million, along with $6 million from the federal government (the province would have to release the funds) to help pay for the $15 to $20 million field house (you just can’t make these things on the cheap anymore).

Ponoka council’s motivation is pure — its action may be ill-advised — but one thing’s for sure, councillors are fairly united in their process. That’s an important piece to this process, however small it may seem.

Why this tactic may not work has more to do with the needs/wants of other rural municipalities that are looking to the do the same thing, than with the province being willing to play along. It’s one of those cliche moments: If I have to give money to you, then I have to give money to everybody else.

If the province accedes to the wishes of Ponoka council, it will come further under fire with other communities and the pressure will mount.

What the town is requesting is not unreasonable; asking the province to be creative in its grant funding. The province says there is no money, but that argument is rather disingenuous. There is money in the coffers, perhaps for more than just a couple communities as well.

Saying they have no money and then announcing $500 million to the cities is an odd way to show it.

The federal government should also be called to account on this issue. Promising millions of dollars to the province in infrastructure funds, but not being clear about the grant process is quite simply the lazy way out. If the province puts the money into something else, the feds just have to shrug and state that it’s out of their hands. Thanks, but no thanks.

Maybe what the town and county of Ponoka should do is consider doing the work all by themselves. If there is a big enough impetus from residents then maybe a petition is in order.

If 5,000 people paid $1,000 we’d have the money in a flash. This is doable through several processes including a property tax.

If town and county residents raise this money then on the grand opening day, federal and provincial leaders can certainly attend, but they wouldn’t be part of the grand opening ceremony process. Instead, every single resident would be a guest of honour and given a special set of scissors and their own red ribbon to cut.

The town could create a website where residents could state why they are proud of the community for coming together and to thank each other for their hard work. They could even pay for the rights to play the music I Did it My Way.

Building a field house is possible, we may just have to do it in an unorthodox way. That is of course, if that’s what residents want.


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