Mayor and reeve weigh in on some weighty issues

Kerik: caribou and assessment modifiers

Gord Fortin
Lakeside Leader

M.D. of Lesser Slave River reeve Murray Kerik gave his opinion on what happened at the Northern Alberta Elected Leaders meeting.
Kerik attended the meeting at the Legacy Centre on Jan. 19.
Kerik says one of the main topics was the caribou range plan. He points out that there is a troubling aspect of the plan when it comes to the definition of disturbance area. Some areas have 20-year-old cutlines that have since seen a regrowth of timber, but the area is still considered disturbed. This includes a zone 500 metres on either side of the line.
Kerik says that game trails are considered a disturbed area. He disputes that by saying it is natural and nothing to do with human activity.
This confusion has led to angst among timber producers and oil companies by creating a barrier to development, according to Kerik.
Kerik says the group touched upon the provincial government’s carbon tax and its implications. The reeve explains that some people think they will only pay the tax once, when it may not be that simple.
Kerik points out that the carbon tax could be applied four times. First is on property taxes. Municipalities are incurring an additional cost and thus have to pass this on to ratepayers. The next would be the seniors requisition. The cost of higher heating and travel rates end up once again passed onto taxpayers. He said it is the same thing with the school tax and last occurrence is whenever a ratepayer makes a purchase.
Another topic of discussion was the municipal linear assessment modifiers being frozen. Kerik says the province enacted the freeze without consulting municipalities. Industry was consulted. This is concerning because prior to the freeze linear assessments were supposed to go up. Now because of the freeze, the money generated from the increase is gone.
Kerik says he knows this has cost some counties, pointing to Yellowhead County in particular, which lost $2 million. He was not sure, at the time of this interview, how much this will cost the M.D. but he did say that there would be an impact.
The M.D. will have to figure out how to get around the shortcoming. Options on the table can be raising the mill rate or rethinking projects and/or services.
“Somehow or another it has to balance out,” Kerik says.
M.D. council has already approved the interim budget and the freeze could send it back to square one. This could call into question the inter-municipal agreements but Kerik says those agreements should be safe.
“We’ll go out of our way to unequivocally to say that will never happen (cancel inter-municipal agreements),” Kerik says. “We’ve got these settled and they are going to stay settled.”
Overall, Kerik feels this meeting was productive and it was was one of the better ones. He explains that oftentimes the topics have little affect on the region. This time that was not the case, as the topics involved everyone in the room.

Murray Kerik

Warman: and marijuana on top of everything else

Gord Fortin
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake mayor Tyler Warman gave his take on the Northern Alberta Elected Leaders meeting held in town on Jan. 19.
Topics of note included the caribou land use frame work, the legalization of marijuana and changes to the municipal linear assessments modifiers.
Warman says the federal government has requested that the provinces build legislation to protect caribou.
A group of municipalities came together and met with the Alberta Government about this plan. The meeting was last fall and the municipalities expressed some unease. A draft of the legislation was released in mid-December and Warman says the municipal concerns appear to be ignored.
The main worry is how the government determines a disturbed area. Depending on what is considered a disturbance to caribou could affect industry, recreation and First Nation use of the land, according to the mayor.
Warman says there will be consultations in several municipalities but the closest meeting will be in Whitecourt. That is troubling as the information on caribou herds there do not apply to the region here.
With that in mind there is talk of lobbying for a meeting in the region. These consultations would be open to the public and any input is welcome.
“It’s more like an open house,” Warman says. “The government is going to come and talk about their plan and its our chance to give feedback on what we like and don’t like.”
On the legalization of marijuana, Warman explains that municipalities are trying to understand how this will affect them financially and on the planning side. As it currently stands, if someone approaches the town to open a dispensary or growing operation, those items are not built into the town’s planning or development guidelines. The zoning doesn’t exist.
Municipalities are looking for guidance from the province on what is legal and what is not.
Warman says that municipalities will also be looking to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties for direction.
The mayor hopes to get some sample legislation that can be built into the town’s laws instead of building one from scratch.
As for the changes to linear assessment modifiers, Warman says the changes are in the formula. There was supposed to be an increase but on the day before Christmas last year the province announced a freeze which scrapped the increase meaning that municipalities missed out on the money generated by the increase.
This might not affect the town directly but it will be felt on counties and M.D.s. Warman says it is unprecedented and the province is interfering in their own tax legislation. He theorized that this could cost M.D.s and counties between $500,000 and $3,000,000, as those numbers were mentioned at the meeting.
This would affect the town in the sense that there are cost-sharing agreements with the M.D. of Lesser Slave River and this will make it difficult to do planning.
Overall, Warman said it is nice to host one of these meetings at the Legacy Centre and that this allows the municipalities to have a larger voice. He said 40 mayors and reeves attended.

Tyler Warman

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