Sturgeon County to partner with Westlock and Athabasca

By MorinvilleNews.com Staff

Sturgeon County – With the expiration of the North West Alliance Conservation Initiative (NWACI) at the end of December, Sturgeon County Council voted 6-1 to enter into a similar arrangement with Westlock and Athabasca Counties.

Created in 2002, the NWACI partnered Strathcona, Sturgeon, Parkland, Westlock, Thorhild, Athabasca and the Municipal District of Lesser Slave River to share funding through the Alberta Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture (AESA) program through Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development to create environmental sustainability for their respective agricultural interests.

Council heard that many of the seven municipalities had now opted out of the partnership because they felt the group was too large and did not benefit them to any great extent. Sturgeon County was approached earlier this month by Westlock and Athabasca County seeking to form a three-way partnership.

Under the new arrangement, the three counties will continue to seek provincial funding; however, Sturgeon County would no longer play home to the conservation technician(s), the position being transferred to the more centrally-located Westlock County office.

Sturgeon County Director of Public Services Peter Tarnawsky told councillors that based on the favourable past performance of the NWACI he anticipates the new group would be eligible for between $60,000 and $90,000 per year in grant funding.

While the majority of council was in favour of entering into a three year arrangement with the neighbouring counties, Mayor Don Rigney advocated administration’s alternative recommendation for Sturgeon County to go it alone, a direction that would allow Sturgeon County to retain the in-house capability to provide environmentally sustainable information and activities to County tax payers. Rigney felt this was the best way to go because of the buzz he felt in the community about the County’s value added agricultural initiatives.

The cost of the go-it-alone option would be a approximately $102,000 per year for each position needed to fill the role. It would also put the County in the position of being a new player in the AESA grant application process, one potentially eligible for $20,000 to $50,000 in funding.

Division 6 Councillor Karen Shaw advocated entering into an arrangement with the two counties, but using the three-year period of the agreement to develop the ability for Sturgeon County to eventually go it alone.

Division 3 Councillor Ken McGillis was also in favour of the partnership option, largely from a financial perspective. “We’re not living in very flush times,” McGillis said, noting the partnership would lessen the costs. “At the end of this partnership, we may want to branch out then.”

As an additional item, council unanimously approved a separate motion to have administration bring forward a proposal at a later date to create a service enhancement that would allow the County to establish its own internal staffing to do much of what will be done by way of the partnership.

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