Alberta Municipal Affairs has begun a dissolution study to assist the minister of municipal affairs determine if Granum should remain a town, or dissolve and become part of the MD of Willow Creek.
Linda Reynolds and Kai So of Municipal Affairs appeared as a delegation May 11 to discuss the dissolution study process.
Reynolds noted the first step is to ask to meet the Granum and MD of Willow Creek councils to explain the process
They were able to meet Granum town council May 9, and spent time the following day with the town manager.
Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau decided the study will include a written report, public meeting and non-binding vote of the electors in the Town of Granum.
Reynolds emphasized the government will also receive written submissions.
Information for the report will come from Alberta Municipal Affairs records and from the Town of Granum, and following that information will be asked for from the MD of Willow Creek.
The public meeting will be in September and a vote taken soon after.
“Typically, the process will take about seven months,” Reynolds said.
Town residents will be kept informed throughout the process. A letter went to them on May 11 and they will be written to three times.
All residents will receive a copy of the written report, official notice of the public meeting and the vote, and receive notice of the final decision.
The report will look at programs and services and how the MD of Willow Creek may provide them. It is not a viability plan or critique of municipal decisions. A date and time are selected for a comparison.
“We call that written report a snapshot in time,” said Reynolds, and in this case it is Dec. 31, 2010.
It will contain a comparison of taxes and show how services of similar type are and would be provided. Typically if the receiving municipality has a similar practice the service will be retained.
Reynolds said they are careful to point out services may not stay the same if taxes change, and utility rates may change. In the future any council can make the decision to change programs and services.
Reynolds also explained information has already been gathered from Municipal Affairs, and met the town manager where they gathered more information.
There is a workbook to be filled out detailing the services. When it is completed, it will go to the MD of Willow Creek. Information put in the report will detail how services are and would be delivered.
They are aiming for the end of June to have information gathered.
Once the written report is completed, reviewed internally and provided to the minister then it will be made publicly available.
A week to 10 days following the release of the report, a public meeting will be held which is facilitated by municipal affairs.
A week following that, a non-binding vote of the electors of the Town of Granum will be held, according to the Local Authorities Elections Act.
Once the vote is completed, a package will be prepared for the minister, he will review it and, if he chooses dissolution, will make a recommendation to cabinet to dissolve the town.
MD of Willow Creek chief administrative officer Cynthia Vizzutti had several questions for Reynolds and So.
Vizzutti clarified the responsibility lies with the minister to decide on dissolution; the MD of Willow Creek can respond in writing once the written report is done; and that there is a huge difference based on mill rates when comparing property taxes.
Vizzutti asked if there is any space to write in what impact there will be on utility rates and special levies, because the MD of Willow Creek can charge a special levy for any improvement, and she guaranteed the utility rates will go up if the municipality takes over Granum.
Reynolds repeated they will point out lower taxes will not necessarily mean the same services.
Vizzutti said one of the biggest issues for administration is if the Town of Granum has tangible capital assets in its budget. This means every road, building and asset is listed and amortized by the town.
“The impact is huge,” Vizzutti said.
Vizzutti spoke with four chief administrative officers of municipalities who received dissolved municipalities and all were told by the provincial government to use their Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding to pay for this.
However, the MD of Willow Creek has already committed this funding to other projects.
Vizzutti pointed out the provincial government has also eliminated transition funding that used to go to receiving municipalities upon the dissolution of a community.
So said the dissolved municipality’s MSI funding would go to the receiving municipality for the current year and the next five years, but Vizzutti said that would not come close to covering all the costs the MD of Willow Creek would inherit.
Vizzutti then asked about governance.
Reynolds replied residents are told they will no longer have their own council, but one MD of Willow Creek councillor, and it is the onus of the MD of Willow Creek for a boundary review if there is a dissolution.
Reynolds also noted any reserves, assets, property or unused grants would go to the MD of Willow Creek.
Vizzutti also asked about environmental contamination within the town and if that is looked at.
Reynolds said the study does not look at sustainability, just programs and services.
Vizzutti’s final question was if the public meeting is open to everyone, and Reynolds said it is.
Coun. Neil Wilson said Granum’s MSI funding does not come close to addressing the infrastructure rehabilitation needed.
Wilson said it looks like this could be a huge liability to the MD of Willow Creek and he is surprised the municipality’s ratepayers are not being consulted more.
Reynolds stressed they are encouraged to provide written feedback.
Coun. Earl Hemmaway said there is quite a bit of concern around the Town of Granum about those people not being able to vote.
Reynolds replied that is why the vote is not the only thing considered by the minister in making his decision.