Opinion By Chris Clegg
It is no secret a few municipalities in Alberta are filthy rich while others struggle.
Refinery Row in Sherwood Park nets huge taxation as does the oilsands at Fort McMurray. Still near the top are the oil-rich M.D. of Greenview and M.D. of Opportunity.
Years ago, Big Lakes County (BLC) was high on the list.
It is well-documented in this newspaper that assessment in BLC has plummeted. Because of a big dip in revenue, grants to neighbouring municipalities like the Town of High Prairie have dipped. From a figure of about $1 million in an annual capital grant, the figure decreased to around $850,000 about 2017 and has since decreased to zero.
It has been a hard financial hit for both BLC and town council.
At its Aug. 10 meeting, BLC threw an olive branch to High Prairie council by offering $250,000 a year over an eight-year period until 2029.
However, town council rejected the offer at its Aug. 25 meeting.
One may quickly wonder why town council would shun a $2 million offer but it was over eight years. It is still a far cry from the cool $1 million per year it received years ago.
Town councillors were quick to speculate despite the fact they have no real expertise.
Instead, they expressed a desire for more money. It was proposed BLC fork over the same amount of money in a shorter time period [four years, as suggested by Councillor John Dunn] or an increased amount over eight years. Councillor Sacha Martens suggested to ask for $500,000 while Councillor James Waikle shared this thought.
“It sounds like we’re lucky to get this amount from them,” he said.
To simply pick a number out of thin air is not practical. No one can predict the future so locking into a set amount could potentially be detrimental and beneficial to BLC. No one wants that.
Instead, why not tie the grant given to High Prairie based on assessment? It was suggested a “floating formula” based on linear assessments.
It makes the best sense and is fair. If BLC assessment increases, revenue increases and they can share accordingly. If assessment decreases or remains stable, High Prairie gets nothing. It might be higher than the annual $250,000 offered but it might be lower. So be it!
Should town council expect their friends at BLC to pay when revenues do not warrant so?
Town council and BLC have tooted their horns for years about the good working relationship they have. During most of this time, BLC’s revenues were excellent and coffers overflowing so it was easy to share. Only during the last few years have problems arisen, all due to the lack of money.
Financial pressures are rising for both governments. It is why they need to discuss a fair grant formula based on assessment. There is no need for this to become an issue that may divide the two.
A good discussion needs to take place, but first and foremost, each side must have an understanding of the situation the other side is coming from. Only then will an agreement be reached that is fair and satisfies both parties.
To demand lavish amounts of money from someone who is in no position to offer it is foolish and the sooner town council realizes that, the better.