At County Council

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Over half of the cash Sturgeon County gets from the Sturgeon Refinery will go towards better roads and bridges, council has decided.

Council signed off on its new significant tax revenue policy Tuesday. The policy is set to apply to any person, project or business that accounts for 20 per cent or more of the county’s tax revenue on an ongoing basis.

This includes the Sturgeon Refinery, which administration expects to contribute up 40 per cent of the county’s tax dollars next year (or about $30 million a year).

The policy was based on talks with residents, the 2015 residential satisfaction survey and numerous meetings with council.

The policy states that cash from mega-sources such as the refinery will be allocated to, in decreasing priority, reserves and debt, roads, community building, service level increases, mitigating impacts of industrial development in the Industrial Heartland, and tax reduction.

In 2018, 34 per cent of the refinery cash will go towards building reserves and paying off debt, 40 per cent towards roads and bridges, 16 per cent to community building, and three per cent each for the other priorities.

By 2022, this will shift to 67 per cent roads and zero for debt and reserves, with additional shifts for the other categories.

This five-year plan will put about 58 per cent of the county’s refinery cash into infrastructure improvements, noted county integrated growth manager Stephane Labonne.

Roads are the county’s biggest issue, which is why they’re getting the lion’s share of this money, Mayor Tom Flynn said in an interview. Significant funds could also go towards projects such as the Morinville rec-centre and the Bon Accord and Legal arenas. Paying down debt and building reserves would also reduce the need to raise taxes, he added.

The policy is set to be reviewed every five years. Details are available in the agenda package for the March 28 meeting.

County residents may soon get better Internet coverage now that council has cut the fees for new cell towers in half.

Council voted Tuesday to lower the application fee for cell/Internet/communications towers to $1,000 from $2,000.

Council heard that administration was okay with the lower fees as they no longer had to refer cell towers to the municipal planning commission, and that the new fee would cover administration’s costs.

Coun. Wayne Bokenfohr lobbied to have the fee lowered to $300 – the same as the one for a HAM radio tower – saying that Internet access was now a necessity in Canada. The county’s fees were much higher than those of its neighbours (fees range from zero in Leduc County to $3,310 in Edmonton, administration reports), and this made the county less competitive when it came to attracting new towers.

“I don’t want to see our residents be last” in line, he said.

Coun. Susan Evans said that fees were just one of the many factors that determined where companies decided to put up towers, and that many municipalities were struggling to get towers despite having lower fees.

Cell towers were a much bigger issue than just fees, Flynn said in council.

“We’ve got restrictions all over the place,” he said, and lower fees are just one step in resolving them.

Flynn noted that the county’s economic development board was also studying ways to improve broadband Internet in the county.

County council turned on the money taps this week to get the new Alcomdale water line flowing towards completion.

Council passed a series of motions on the Alcomdale water line after an in camera session Tuesday.

The line is meant to resolve ongoing safety issues with the community’s well water that has forced residents to live under a boil-water advisory since 2013.

In addition to settling on a precise route for the line (the details of which were confidential pending land negotiations), council agreed to pour an additional $479,310 into the project from reserves to cover the county’s share of the roughly $5-million project. The rest of the cash will come from federal and provincial grants. Alcomdale residents will eventually repay the county’s contribution through water rates.

Administration now has to negotiate right-of-way for the line and complete detailed engineering for it, Flynn said in an interview. He hoped to see construction start this summer and to have water flowing to Alcomdale and possibly the Morinville Hutterite Colony by early next year.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.