Mayor of Slave Lake
One of the greatest things in my life is the relationship I have with my wife. We understand each other. We respect each other, and we trust each other. That sounds great but I know it’s because we both put in effort. We work at it every day. We want each other to succeed and want what’s best for our family. Because of this our relationship works and it works well. But I always wonder what would happen if we stopped putting in the effort.
The last thing you want to do is pick a fight with your neighbour. It never ends well and never improves quality of life. That being said, when pushed around you also have to stand up for yourself. This week council received a letter from our neighbouring council in the MD of Lesser Slave River.
We have two agreements with the MD. The first is for our fire services, where the MD and Town share in the cost of making sure when our residents need help, a fire truck arrives.
The other agreement is in regards to recreation services provided by the Town. Essentially, most recreation is a money-loser for any municipality, and facilities are subsidized by tax dollars to keep them open. In order for MD residents to access town facility services at the same price as Slave Lake residents, the MD has to help subsidize the amenities. Our agreement defines what each party will do and how much they will pay. The current agreement essentially has the town front all the cost, and at the end of the year the MD pays a portion of what it actually costs to operate those facilities.
With these agreements there are obviously things on both sides that we would like to change, and make better. We have been negotiating these agreements for close to two years now. Both the Fire Services Agreement, and the Inter-Municipal Cost Sharing Master Agreement have expired, but in 2015 the MD and Town voted to honour the current agreements until new ones were crafted, and passed. For the last two years we have had several meetings, but last December they stopped. Our council kept requesting another meeting but to this time have had no success in arranging one.
In the end, the Town wants the least amount of changes in these agreements, and so we came to an understanding that the agreements would continue; so the Town continued to provide the same level of services that were laid out in both agreements.
Last week the MD council voted unanimously to pay us $304,482.78 of the $415,056.96 invoice for the Intermunicipal agreement. The MD decided there were things they would pay for, and things they would not.
Before we move on, I would like to note that the invoice that they partially agreed to pay is from 2016, and as we are approximately three quarters the way through 2017, the failure to pay the remaining sum would result in an approximate tax increase of 1.5 per cent to residents next year.
It is unfortunate that this is happening during the election, but we believe this is an important matter than needs to be addressed today.
Next week, we have heard, the MD will make a decision on the 2016 invoice from the Fire Services agreement. If the MD uses a similar method for deciding how much to pay, the residents of Slave Lake could be severely impacted at tax time.
I’ll approach this from another direction; imagine offering a ride to your neighbour every day. You buy a new truck, you look after it, and you pay for all the maintenance. One day on your drive your neighbor says to you, “Hey I want to pay my fair share,” and so the two of you agree he will pay you $20 per week for the ride. Over time your neighbour starts asking you questions about the cost of running the truck and the maintenance. Then one day, he unilaterally decides to stop paying for the rides you’ve been giving him and states, “I’ll pay you later, after the list of questions I have are answered.”
So you take the time to answer the questions, while the amount he promised to pay keeps accumulating. One day your neighbour gets out of the truck and turns to you and says, “Here’s a cheque for $10 per ride, which I feel is more fair than the previously agreed upon $20.” Then he says, “Pick me up the same time tomorrow”.
At this point you begin to question if you really want to give your neighbour a ride anymore.
Obviously the treatment by the MD has us concerned, and so we have recently reached out to them to get some understanding on why this payment is different from the agreements we are supposed to be using.
Verbally we have been told that the motions that we made to keep using the same agreements until a new one was made don’t matter anymore and never really did. This is extremely disappointing, because there was a time when a handshake, and your word, was supposed to mean something.
So now what do we do? We recently sent a letter back to the MD seeking clarification and understanding and we hope to get some answers. What can’t be expected is for the Town to continue offering the same service not knowing if the users are going to pay their share, or if they are going to pay anything for that matter. There is obviously frustration on both sides, but we need to work together to find a solution that benefits all of our residents.
In order for the relationship to survive it will require effort from both sides.