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Willow Creek MD to seek legal advice on disposing tax recovery land

The MD of Willow Creek will get a legal opinion on how it can dispose of tax recovery land it owns west of Fort Macleod.
The decision came at council’s Jan. 8 meeting after a lengthy discussion and several failed motions.
Chief administrative officer Cynthia Vizzutti explained back in the 1920s the provincial government took a lot of land through tax enforcement with the intention of giving it to the municipalities.
One of the parcels in the MD of Willow Creek is at 30-9-27-4, and it was leased for grazing purposes to Wallace Daley in 1979. Since then his son Mark has assumed the lease.
Last year, the land was legally transferred from the province to the municipality. In June, Mark Daley made his case to keep leasing the land.
Council said it would allow him to stay until the end of 2013.
“It is up to council to decided what to do with this piece of property,” Vizzutti said.
Coun. John Kroetsch said Daley has managed the land well, so much so he received an increase in animal units that can graze the land.
Reeve Neil Wilson said Daley was given to the end of the year to raise the money to buy the land or adapt his operation to the loss of the land.
Since Daley wanted to be present for the discussion, the matter was postponed until later in the meeting.
When discussion returned to the matter Daley was present.
Wilson said council’s options were to lease the land to Daley or sell it.
Vizzutti said the land, comprising about 160 acres, was appraised by Benchmark Assessments’ Wayne Lamb, the municipality’s assessor, at $1,600 per acre for a total of $256,000.
Coun. Henry Van Hierden said if the land is leased or sold, it should be by public tender.
Daley disagreed with that because he would lose the land to his neighbours after he had made improvements to the land such as water systems, and it was incorporated into his operation.
Coun. Glen Alm said the MD of Willow Creek just can’t leave the situation as is.
“We can’t make a private deal that isn’t open to everybody to have a chance at,” Alm said.
Kroetsch agreed with Daley, because he has looked after the land very well.
“He should have the first chance to buy it,” Kroetsch said. “I think the person who’s been looking after that land (should have first right).”
Coun. Maryanne Sandberg said if a land owner has a renter, the renter usually has first right to purchase the land.
Sandberg also said council set a precedent to sell without tendering when it sold surplus fire trucks to Hutterian Brethren colonies without a public tender.
Kroetsch agreed with Sandberg.
Vizzutti said one has nothing to do with the other. One is land and one is equipment.
Coun. Ian Sundquist said his duty is to look after the affairs of the municipality and look out for its best interests.
Sundquist said if the municipality can get fair market value from the existing user of the land, who has looked after it, then he would be satisfied.
“My conscience would be clear,” Sundquist said.
Van Hierden then made a motion to sell the land by open tender.
In discussion on the motion Sandberg asked Vizzutti to explain the municipality’s policy on selling land and equipment.
Vizzutti responded the policy does not dictate every piece of equipment has to be sold by tender.
Further, the sale of fire trucks to Hutterian brethren colonies was in exchange for a fire suppression program where the colony provides access to firefighters, who are also being trained by the municipality so they can provide fire suppression service to everyone in the MD of Willow Creek.
Vizzutti said there is no inconsistency and nothing clandestine in the sale of those fire trucks. She added there was no cost efficiency in tendering a $500 piece of equipment.
“We got something in return for selling those trucks to the Hutterian Brethren colonies,” Vizzutti said.
Kroetsch said he viewed council as having three choices: the land owner gets first chance to buy it; the land goes to public tender; or it is leased to Daley for 10 years.
Van Hierden said Daley has the best advantage at buying the land. He later added council could say the current lease holder gets right of first refusal to buy the land.
When the motion came to a vote, it was defeated with Van Hierden and Wilson voting in favour, and the rest of council opposed except Coun. Earl Hemmaway who was absent.
Kroetsch repeated his assertion Daley should have the first chance to buy it.
Vizzutti suggested the MD of Willow Creek should have an independent appraiser appraise the land, and the municipality should seek legal advice.
Sandberg then moved the matter be tabled, but that motion was defeated as well.
Van Hierden then moved the land be leased to Daley at $2,500 for one year then the MD of Willow Creek will start the process of publicly tendering the land in January 2015.
Sandberg said that motion would still not address the issue.
That motion was then defeated with Van Hierden voting in favour and everyone else opposed.
Alm suggested the municipality should get some legal advice, while Kroetsch suggested they look at what other municipalities are doing.
Vizzutti responded the options are to tender or lease the land. Further, if the municipality sells the land, it has to make sure the method used does not set a precedent.
Council agreed to seek legal advice.