By Stephen Dafoe
Sturgeon County – The Morinville Seed Cleaning Plant’s annual loan payment to Sturgeon County was forgiven Tuesday morning. In a 6-1 vote, County Council approved forgiving the $16,700 loan payment and to directing administration to review the possibility of forgiving the remaining balance of the loan.
The $150,000 loan was taken out in April of 2009 at 2 per cent per year and was to be repaid over a 10-year period. The financial contribution allowed the struggling seed cleaning plant to do some necessary capital upgrades to the facility.
Administration recommended council deny the request for loan forgiveness or alternatively request the seed plant to pay the $2,726 interest on the loan. Sturgeon County had waived the plant’s 2010 loan payment. In a letter to County Commissioner Chris Micek, plant manager Joanne Borle requested the County consider doing the same again, citing costs of upgrading the plant and the need to be competitive with other seed cleaning plants in the region.
Former County Councillor Jerry Kaup made an appeal to council on behalf of the plant Tuesday morning. “We’re struggling to make ends meet over there,” Kaup said, noting there is pressure to do an annual audit, rather than the annual review and five year audit process the plant is currently using. Kaup explained an audit cost $12,000 compared with $4,000 for an annual review. “That saves us $8,000 a year, which is almost enough to pay the loan back.”
Kaup said other communities offer substantial support to their seed cleaning plants. The former councillor and Sturgeon County farmer criticized the county’s economic direction.
“I’m a little disappointed on the [economic] focus,” Kaup said, adding he brought this up during his time on council. “The focus on industry in the county is a good thing … but the focus is kind of shifting away from the rural farming.”
Councillor Don McGeachy moved to forgive this year’s loan payment, agreeing with Kaup Sturgeon County needs to support agriculture.
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“We are woefully underfunding [seed plants] compared to other municipalities,” the councillor said. “We talk about investing in value-added agriculture. Well, I think it’s time to step up and invest in agriculture.”
McGeachy went on to praise the local seed cleaning plant for their efforts in being sustainable.
“You guys have kept your house in order and are showing a profit, although a meagre one,” he said. “I’d hate to take that from you.”
Councillor Ken McGillis also expressed the need for Sturgeon County to be supportive. The councillor said the seed plant is an important cog in the agricultural wheel and that it is difficult to compete with seed plants that are perhaps not operating with financial efficiency due to feeding from the public trough. “We have to support you, but I think the seed cleaning industry cross the province have to look at themselves and see where they are going,” McGillis said. The councillor went on to say businesses need to support themselves and the Morinville plant is setting an example for other seed plants in the province to support themselves.
Councillor Karen Shaw suggested a friendly amendment to the motion that would see the plant pay the interest on the 2011 loan payment. The amendment failed to get much verbal support and was withdrawn. Shaw cast the sole opposing vote to the motion to forgive the loan payment.
The Morinville Seed Cleaning Plant ranked third in the province in 2010 for seed cleaning.