Amalgamation not an option, mayor says
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Friday, Jan 10, 2014 04:30 pm
Amalgamation will not be part of the conversation at the Capital Region Board, nor will it bring any good to St. Albert, said Mayor Nolan Crouse following a proposal made by the head of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.
James Cumming, president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce raised the question at a conference of the Realtors Association of Edmonton on Wednesday.
Cumming said it was time to have a “grown-up conversation and review about amalgamation,” and to make decisions that would positively impact on rising taxes and public-service costs in the region.
“We’ve been debating this issue for probably 20 years and it’s time to get serious about it and come up with some positive solutions that set us up well for the future,” he said.
Most of the municipalities surrounding the Edmonton region were doing private land planning and trying to grow their region independently without much co-operation, he said.
If all of them were to amalgamate they could plan together, lower their taxes and save on public-servicing costs, such as the transportation system – issues that now cause a threat to the region’s competitiveness and its capacity to attract new investment, he said.
“And then you have a servicing issue that the city of Edmonton has as the primary region,” he said. “Where you have an influx of people and not the tax support to try and support the infrastructure we need.”
The Edmonton chamber is now preparing a recommendation to the province to investigate the cost and implications of amalgamation, Cumming said. That idea could include combining all regional municipalities or only a few.
He added that the current system of collaboration under the Capital Region Board is not working. The board consists of elected officials of 24 municipalities who work together on regional issues and growth planning.
Cumming said the region continues to lack a strong voice marketing it outside of its borders and requires a single funding mechanism. He added that the chamber has not discussed the proposal with any of the outlying municipalities.
Not an option, says mayor
Crouse, who chairs the Capital Region Board, said the board has a strategy of working together that does not include amalgamation, nor will it consider that option in the future.
“It’s not (Cumming’s) responsibility to be talking about amalgamation which is something the Capital Region Board would have in our mandate if we were even interested in talking about,” he said. “I think it’s totally off-side for him to be meddling in capital region business.”
He added that there are numerous regions throughout the world and in Canada where cities and their surrounding municipalities are not amalgamated yet work together. That does not make their economy weak, he said.
Asked about the implications on taxes and public-servicing costs if St. Albert were to amalgamate with Edmonton, Crouse said services would suffer. As an example, he mentioned that St. Albert does not share many of Edmonton’s policies on snow clearing, road maintenance or policing.
St. Albert would have to share many of these services with the city, or take over Edmonton’s policies.
“Our services are stronger, the quality of life is what Albertans tell us they want,” Crouse said. “People move here for this quality of life. If your objective is to have lower taxes that means you must mean lower services or want lower services.”
Negative impact on local businesses, quality of life
The only reason local residents could be inclined to join with the city of Edmonton would be rising taxes, said Ivan Mayer, president of the Riel Business Association in St. Albert. But the main benefit of amalgamation would be with Edmonton, he said.
“We’ve taken a good chunk of land from Sturgeon County which would obviously become Edmonton, which they need,” he said. “They are running out of areas to expand to. They can’t go east because of Sherwood Park, they can’t go north because of us.”
While regions such as Toronto have amalgamated in the past, Mayer said there is more than an economic scale of saving taxes and costs on infrastructure to consider.
St. Albert would lose much of its identity and culture if it were to join Edmonton, he said. And many entrepreneurs who are now thriving in the local market would not be able to sustain their business if they had to compete with Edmonton.
“It’s bad enough that we have to compete with Edmonton which we do on a day-in, day-out basis – and we haven’t got a problem with that,” he said. “But then if you are lumped into the bigger picture the competitiveness becomes worse. It just puts us in a bigger pot.”