Sturgeon County Council briefs

By Morinville News Staff

Upgrader prepayment of taxes deferred

County Council voted unanimously Tuesday morning to accept Northwest Redwater Partnership’s (NWR) request to change the prepayment of taxes from June 1 to Dec. 31 of this year.

The agreement between NWR and Sturgeon County calls for the prepayment of $5.5 million in taxes at either the time of economic sanctioning of the project by NWR’s partnership management or Dec. 31, 2012. The tax prepayment is to be made in consideration of Sturgeon County waving any offsite road levies against Upgrader lands pursuant to County bylaws.
Originally scheduled to be paid in mid-March of 2009, the prepayment was rescheduled to mid-March 2011, then Dec. 31, 2011, and most recently June 1 of 2012.

Doug Bertsch from North West Redwater Partnership made an appearance at Council’s meeting Tuesday morning and said he would not ask for another extension. “This is the last request for extension,” Bertsch said. “We will not be back here in future months asking for similar extensions.”

Bertsch said despite no real visual signs of progress, the upgrader project is advancing well. “I’m here to tell you the Sturgeon refinery is proceeding today at a very significant rate,” he said, adding millions a month are being spent on advancing the project from an engineering perspective.

Bertsch said the extension on the prepayment of taxes will aid the project considerably by allowing the cash flow to be spent on further engineering, advance work he said will eliminate problems during the actual construction phase.

Although Council unanimously supported the request, Councillor Shaw told Bertsch there was support in her area for the project but frustration in the fact it is taking as long as it has. She called on NWR to issue more press releases on progress as they did when the project was getting its sanctioning.

County to take over Redwater Fire Department

Council voted unanimously Tuesday morning to enter into an agreement to take over the operations of the Redwater Fire Department. Council recently entered into a similar operations agreement with the Bon Accord Fire Department to provide operations as it does with the Namao and Calahoo fire departments.

Council heard Tuesday the Redwater Fire Department responds to approximately 120 emergency calls each year, 90 per cent of which are County calls. The County currently houses three pieces of fire apparatus in Redwater and funds the department approximately $150,000 each year.

By taking over the operations of the Redwater Fire Department, Sturgeon County will gain several tangible assets, including a wildland trailer and side by side utility task vehicle (UTV).

It is believed the County will realize some financial savings as it currently pays Redwater a fee for vehicles that respond to County calls.

Redwater Mayor Mel Smith was pleased with the acceptance of the agreement. “We certainly see this as an excellent fit with the Town and the County,” he said. “We’ve been looking forward to it for a few months.”

Pat Mahoney, Manager of Protective Services, will be acting as Interim Redwater Fire Chief on until a new fire chief can be elected from the current body of officers.

The agreement is slated to take effect June 1.

Sturgeon County Council discusses reeve idea

Council gathered for a brief segment of their committee of the whole meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the concept of returning to a reeve system from the current mayoral system. The idea was first raised by Councillor Joe Milligan in March and has been the subject of a few discussions in and out of council since that time.

Council discussed the differences between an elected versus appointed chief elected official during Tuesday morning’s session as well as what those differences could mean to those who live in Sturgeon County. Those differences lie in the fact the Mayor attains his or her office by a popular vote in a general election whereas a reeve is selected from among the elected councillors and could thus be seen as a less democratic selection, one made by peers based on merit and qualifications as seen by those peers. Another difference is a mayor would be elected to a three-year term; however, a reeve would be appointed by councillors at each organizational meeting, an annual occurrence unless the bylaws were changed to alter that timeline for the appointment.

There was some sense among the group of councillors present at Tuesday’s meeting that a mayor takes a broader focus and view of the municipality as a whole rather than narrowing in on the focus of their particular division.

Division 2 Councillor Tom Flynn said it is hard to separate the position from a division because a mayor of necessity must live in one division of the County or another and therefore would receive calls from residents who would know the mayor’s proximity and connection with the division.

Part of the representation discussion focused on urban and rural divisions, something Flynn and others felt the County needed to ensure did not result in over or under representation, particularly with the County seeing more and more residential developments.

“We’re in that transition zone which drives this,” Flynn said of the initial move from a reeve to a mayoral system. “That’s part of what drove things when the change was made.”

Mayor Don Rigney said there was at the time of the change some sense the rural component of the County was running the County.

Rigney also raised the matter of how many divisions a future municipal government might be composed of. He questioned if six divisions was the right number for Sturgeon County, suggesting some municipalities with an elected official have nine councillors. “I’m not saying I’m arguing for that one way or another,” he said. “It is something we may want to consider.”

Regardless of the divisional boundaries a future iteration of County Council may oversee, there is a common belief among councillors that diversity of land use is what councillors truly represent.

Councillor Flynn said there is a lot going on within the County with industry, urban and agricultural land mixes. “We have to represent a lot of different things,” he said. “It is more than people.” The councillor said it is important to have representation that represents the varying land uses. “My fear would be if we over represent the urban portion of things we would do the county some disfavour in the long run. I think we have to protect some of what we have.”

The urban rural mix prompted Councillor Karen Shaw to question if the path to reeve might take the County closer to something akin to the party system common in provincial and federal politics. As such there could be a divide between rural and urban. Shaw felt it is important that Council represent the overall interests of the County in all things. “If we’re doing that properly and acting within our capacity, we are acting in the interest of the County as a whole,” she said.

Councillor Joe Milligan, who brought the idea of examining the merits of returning to a reeve system, explained the reeve system would take pressure off a mayor from special interest groups. “We put a lot of pressure on the mayor, particularly from outside,” Milligan said. “If the mayor is part of the whole council, it puts the pressure on the whole council.”

Councillor Flynn agreed, stating it can cost $50,000 to run for mayor, money that can later lead to pressure on a mayor from outside groups who support the campaign.

Although still examining information on the reeve versus mayor concept as well as population increases and decreases in the various divisions over the past few years in order to get an overall picture of the concept, there is still some debate as to the need for the discussion at all. Councillor David Kluthe said residents he has spoken to overwhelmingly oppose the idea of returning to a Reeve system. Councillor Milligan said the reverse is true among the people he has spoken to in his division.

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