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Reeve Reflections

2020 Bringing Plenty of Changes

Merrill Harris

If 2020 were a math problem it might be something like this “If you’re going down a river at 2 mph and your canoe loses a wheel, how much pancake mix would you need to shingle your roof??” If you know the answer to that one you are a brilliant person. 

This year has thrown us all curves that we most likely never ever dreamed we would face. I am sure each of us has been affected by what is going on in the world around us, Covid-19, school closures, business closures, trying to now get the economy going again, wanting to get away, wanting to see family but can’t travel to see them etc...

With some of the restrictions being lifted by the province, MD Council and staff have been able to return to a little more of a normal routine. Public works staff, Ag Services staff and the water treatment plant operators have been busy doing everything that keeps the MD going on a day-to-day basis as best they can while at the same time adjusting operations to be in line with the current covid environment.

Funding for many of the projects that Council and Staff have been working on for a number of years has fallen into place in recent months, and many funding announcements have been held in the last month. High up on the list of these announcements includes the twinning of Highway 3 from the Sugar Factory corner to Burdett. This is a huge gain for the

Southern Alberta Region. Safety of the traveling public has been a huge concern for everyone and was one of the points we have brought to the attention of the Provincial government whenever we have had a chance. As industry grows, and more and more large trucks move agricultural products up and down the highway, the need for twinning became even more apparent and necessary. We are grateful for the announcement of funding for this important project.

The Horsefly Spillway project also was the recipient of a funding announcement recently. We have secured $7.3 million from the province under the ACRP program and have recently received $8.9 Million from the federal government under the ICIP program. Both of these funding announcements support phase 3 (the first construction phase) of the project, which is from Taber Lake to the Oldman River. This phase of the overall Horsefly project is estimated to cost $22 million dollars. The remaining funding is to come from our Southern Alberta municipal partners with participation from the Irrigation Districts (TID and SMRID). The purpose of this project is to mitigate flood events, (early spring melting or big rain events during the spring and summer) by draining the SMRID Main Canal at the Horsefly turnout, divert that water through Horsefly Lake, through Taber Lake and emptying it back into the Oldman River. Continued Advocacy work and lobbying for the funding of the remaining two phases of the project will be ongoing, as well as for the remaining projects that are part of the regional storm water management plan. There are projects spanning from Raymond to Medicine Hat that will help facilitate drainage from the overall southern Alberta region. 

The Township 8 Range 16 drainage project is also underway after it was successfully tendered this spring. The wetlands component is nearing completion and the crews will begin on the roadside drainage work shortly with completion expected around the end of October. This project is funded 90% from the provincial ACRP Program. The Vauxhall Rest Stop, a project developed and implemented in partnership with Alberta Transportation, is also under construction after a successful tendering process. The first $1.5 Million of this project is funded by Alberta Transportation. We have also been successful in getting funding for six bridge replacements from the Strategic Infrastructure program (STIP) from Alberta Transportation. These are old bridge structures that were over open canals. When an irrigation district installs pipelines in the ground these structures are no longer needed and through this program they are removed. These projects are funded 75% by the province.

Also recently announced was funding in the amount of $2.1 Million from the Municipal Climate Change Action Center and Alberta Innovates. This funding is for the first pilot project to convert old abandoned oil well sites into a renewable energy development site. Up to 2MW of electricity will be generated off these sites, enough power to run up to 60 pivots during the irrigation season. While the MD of Taber applied for and obtained this funding from the province one of the project partners, IRRICAN, will own the infrastructure and implement the project.

There is currently about 3000 inactive wells in the MD. Many have been abandoned with landowners left to deal with these sites. Converting them to solar is one option that is becoming available through this pilot project. There are many partners who have worked hard to wade through the many requirements (i.e. regulatory, assessment, taxation, connection to the electrical grid) to make this project a reality. Thank you to Keith Hirsche and his team that have worked so hard to get this project underway.

We have successfully negotiated a draft Intermunicipal Development Plan with the Town of Taber. This document outlines where growth in the Town is most likely to happen and how we can work together to help facilitate orderly growth in the Town and the area in the municipality surrounding the Town. We have completed the same agreements with all the municipalities that surround and are within the MD (Barnwell and Vauxhall). An open house will be held, most likely in the fall, for the public to look at the documents, ask questions, and seek explanation regarding the importance and potential implications of the agreement. An Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF) has also recently been completed between the two municipalities (being the MD and Town of Taber). This agreement highlights some potential service areas where we can potentially work together (collaboratively) to develop mutually beneficial service agreements. 

Now, on behalf of Council I need to inform you of some of the challenges that we are now facing as a municipality. For quite some time we have been hearing that the Provincial government was looking at changes to the way assessment for the Oil and Gas industry is done. The Government of Alberta is proposing drastic changes to the way assessment is calculated on oil and gas wells, pipelines and machinery and equipment. The province is doing all they canto facilitate the oil and Gas sector, to get it rolling again; but we feel they are doing it on the backs of municipalities and ordinary citizens. They have proposed four different scenarios, with each of those scenarios significantly reducing the assessment base for the MD. The least impactful scenario reduces municipal property tax revenue by $3.1 Million and the worst-case scenario is a reduction of $4.1 Million. This is huge, when considering that the municipal property tax revenues budgeted is roughly $15.5 Million. In order to maintain the same funding levels, taxes on Residents, Farms and Businesses would need to increase substantially(this would equate a property tax increase in the range of 25% to 36% across the residential, farmland, and non-residential property classes). Raising tax rates to offset the impacts of these assessment model changes will have the effect of simply transferring taxes from industry to other businesses and residents. These abrupt changes to the assessment model will force municipalities to enact a reduction in service levels to our ratepayers as the above mentioned tax increases to farms, residents and small business are NOT realistic. As Council we are advocating to our MLA’s, in coordination with Rural Alberta, and urban municipalities inside the MD, to put a stop to the governments proposal. There surely must be other policy options at the provincial level that will facilitate the Oil and Gas sector that does not download costs onto municipalities, businesses and residents. We are appreciative of the work that RMA is doing on our behalf, lobbying the provincial decision makers and educating them of the adverse effects that such a proposal will have on rural municipalities. 

I would encourage every Citizen of the Municipality to contact their MLA to let them know there must be a better way to help the Oil and Gas industry out besides burdening municipalities.

Grant Hunter - MLA for Taber-Warner
5402 - 50 Avenue
Taber, AB
Canada T1G 1T9
403-223-0001
Taber.Warner@assembly.ab.ca

Joseph Schow - MLA for Cardston-Siksika
P.O. Box 819
Cardston, AB
Canada T0K 0K0
403-653-5070
Cardston.Siksika@assembly.ab.ca

In addition to the above problem is the ongoing challenge of collecting property tax from some operating oil companies that they are assessed. Last year $2.3 Million in taxes was not collected and this year could easily be a repeat of that. Also pending are our obligations to pay for policing, which in 2020 is close to $200,000 and will be growing to over $600,000 over the next three years. Amidst these many challenges, establishing a suitable municipal budget moving forward will be a priority of Council and Staff. . Anticipated large and significant revenue shortfalls and corresponding service adjustments are anticipated and are very much a reality. Council realizes the difficult position we are in, but as I said earlier, the huge increases that would be necessary to maintain the revenue stream that we are used to are unrealistic. Service adjustments and project prioritization will need to be carefully planned and thought out moving forward.

I have rambled enough for this issue. For any further information you need you are welcome to call your councillor, or our staff can help with any questions you have about any of the issues brought up. On behalf of Council we wish you the best as we start into what looks like a very promising harvest season.

Sincerely,

Merrill Harris
Reeve
Municipal District of Taber