SANDRA M STANWAY
County of Newell reeve Molly Douglass isn’t confident that Tracy Allard, who was recently appointed minister of municipal affairs, will stop the ongoing oil and gas assessment discussions that could see rural municipalities lose millions of tax dollars beginning next year.
Elected officials met Allard in Lethbridge last week a few days after her appointment.
“I did not feel a great deal better after meeting our new minister in that there was going to be a whole bunch of changes,” said Douglass.
“Maybe I’m just a little over negative. I hope so.”
During embargoed meetings with members of the rural and urban municipalities associations and industry representatives including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), four scenarios were proposed to the province to cut linear municipal taxes.
While the cuts would help struggling oil and gas operators, it would result in rural municipalities not being able to collect millions of dollars forcing them to provide services with less money and likely not able to assist neighbouring municipalities or organizations.
Elected officials and administrators have previously said any of the four options would be devastating to municipalities.
In the county, the proposed cuts could be anywhere from about $7 million in Scenario A to $11 million in Scenario D. Elected officials have said Scenario D is likely off the table.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot to be optimistic about yet. My read is one of the options is going to proceed and I don’t think any one of them is very good for our county,” said CAO Kevin Stephenson.
“We’ve got to keep the lobbying efforts going,” he said.
He said the message they left with the minister is for the province to go back and logically look at assessment.
Division 8 councillor Brian de Jong said he believes the conversation with the minister went better than the ones with the previous minister, however, he doesn’t believe anyone left the meeting believing the process will be restarted.
“They’re maybe going to take a bit of a pause,” he said.
He suggested that council show ratepayers the worst case scenario if the budget was cut by 30 per cent to present a clear understanding of the impacts.
He said fewer dollars could mean closing fire halls, extending the time between road grading and snow clearing.
“It’s great for 10 councillors and a CAO that is passionate about this to get up and jump on our soapbox but we need more people (making) phone calls to ministers and to our MLAs to highlight the seriousness of what they’re suggesting,” he said.
He added that it may not make a difference if 1,000 letters were written to the minister or the premier.
“It might not make any difference because as I’ve said many times, where is the rural voter going to go? They’ve got nowhere to go to. They’re not going to go the NDP, they’re not going to go to the Wildrose. They’re going to stay right where they are,” he said.
“I don’t think so,” Douglass responded.
She believes another new party will “spring up if they want this. This is Alberta. The Wildrose will take off again,” she said.
Brooks city councillors Joel Goodnough and John Petrie also met the minister in Lethbridge.
“I thought it was a good meeting. She certainly was open to the questions and a lot of the major concerns from municipalities in southern Alberta especially the County of Newell and the County of Cypress,” said Petrie.
He said municipalities stated their concerns and “It looked like she was listening and maybe will decide on it.”
He said Allard is expected to make a decision on the oil and gas assessment proposals in October.
“She is aware that municipalities have to do their budget by the end of the year.”
Barry Morishita, Brooks mayor and the president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) met with Allard and discussed the proposed models.
He said he believes that municipalities and industry understand there has to be a better methodology to determine value.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that everyone here and most people in Alberta recognize that the industry could use a hand in these times,” Morishita told council on Tuesday.