by Colin Smith
Morinville should join with Sturgeon County and the other towns in the area to form a unified municipality. The proposal was put to Town Council at its Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday, in a presentation by local businessman Simon Boersma.
Boersma contends that the present municipal government system is outmoded and inefficient, resulting in unnecessary expense to taxpayers. He says he is speaking for a group of about 30 area residents.
“We are currently governed by 38 mayors and councillors and six chief administrative officers, for about 38,474 residents,” he stated. “We believe $6 million to $10 million of taxpayers’ revenue is being wasted annually by this system. Over the next 10 years, $60 million to $100 million will be wasted.”
They believe that to cut out that tax expense, the councils and separate administrations of Morinville, Sturgeon County, Bon Accord, Gibbons, Legal and Redwater should be done away with, to be replaced by one single council and administration of a specialized municipality.
Specialized municipalities are a type of community formation allowed for in Alberta’s Municipal Government Act, in addition to municipal districts, cities, towns and villages.
Under the act, formation of specialized municipalities is at the discretion of the Minister of Municipal Affairs, and may take place if the other types of municipality don’t meet the needs of community residents.
Alberta currently has six specialized municipalities. The first, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which contains Fort McMurray, was formed in 1995. Strathcona County, which contains Sherwood Park, became a specialized municipality the following year.
The province’s other specialized municipalities are the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, the Municipality of Jasper, Lac La Biche County, and Mackenzie County.
In his Council presentation, Boersma pointed to the tax impact of the two new industrial facilities in Sturgeon County – the NWR Sturgeon Refinery and the Pembina-Kuwait propane-propylene plant.
Once operational and in full production, the two facilities are expected to generate $57 million in tax revenue that will flow to Sturgeon County.
Boersma’s group claims that if industrial tax revenue was distributed among the other communities in the area, it would make millions more available to them, while residential property were kept the same.
For instance, a chart accompanying the presentation showed Morinville’s current residential tax take at $8,269,329, 85% of the total, with non-residential, 15%, at $1,419,890.
Were Morinville to receive a share of that industrial tax, based on population in a unified municipality scenario, it is projected that the non-residential share could jump to $16,086,890 and make up 66% of the total, while the residential take remained the same.
But even setting the industrial revenue aside, area residents would greatly benefit from the tax reductions that would result from streamlining the municipal structure, Boersma believes.
“Efficiencies alone will change the whole area right off the bat,” he said.
Concerns expressed that the region’s towns would lose their identity as part of a unified municipality are unwarranted, Boersma feels.
“I look east to Strathcona County, we look at Sherwood Park, Ardrossan or one of the other communities, and they do have individuality—as we in Morinville, Bon Accord, Redwater and Legal would have along with Sturgeon County.”
It’s thought by the group Boersma represents that a unified municipality would also give area residents a stronger hand in getting their concerns recognized, in line with Alberta’s cities.
Following his presentation Tuesday, Boersma is planning to meet with Sturgeon County Council. Arrangements to meet with Bon Accord, Legal, Gibbons and Red Water have not been made.
The group would like the municipal councils to hold town hall meetings to provide information on the matter to their residents and meet together to look at new borders for elected officials as a start to the implementation of unification by this fall.
“The current system isn’t working,” Boersma said. “When are we going to start looking after the needs of the taxpayers?