At County Council

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County council has backed off on a controversial attempt to regulate agri-business through its land-use bylaw.

Council voted 6-0 last March 28 in support of a motion from Mayor Tom Flynn to drop the requirement for agricultural accessory buildings to have a building permit and the section dealing with agri-business from its proposed new land-use bylaw, and to suspend all further work affecting agricultural industries pending development of an agricultural master plan. (Coun. Jerry Kaup was absent.)

The vote came shortly after the close of a public hearing on the bylaw that drew hundreds to the Morinville Community Cultural Centre that day.

Council heard from legions of farmers and farm supporters in February that opposed the bylaw’s plans to make agri-business a discretionary use and have administrators set hours of operation for these businesses. Advocates said these restrictions would threaten the ability of farmers to make a living.

In an interview, Flynn said that he recognized that council was dealing with this issue without a clear idea as to where it was going with agriculture.

“I thought we better stay with what we had and not cause more consternation until such time where we best understand where the long range future is.”

The motion means that rules for agri-business and permits for agricultural accessory buildings are now off the table in terms of the bylaw, Flynn said.

“There may be no requirement (for regulation), there may be some required, but that’s some work we can do with full consultation with the public.”

Flynn said the proposed agricultural master plan would likely get rolling in the next year or so, and would aim to find out how the county could support farmers in the next 30 years while respecting the rights of their neighbours. Strathcona County has completed a similar document.

Flynn said the strong public outcry to the land-use bylaw definitely influenced his decision on this issue, and thanked residents for making him look further into the issue.

Council also supported motions from Flynn for administration to bring back options regarding secondary suites and RV storage in the bylaw. Coun. Karen Shaw won support for her request for a report on changes to the bylaw based on comments at the public hearing and for an implementation plan for the bylaw.

Flynn said the bylaw would return for second reading either later this month or in early May, depending on administration’s workload.

County residents will get to buy some extra Timbits this year should county council approve a surprise tax cut.

County council passed first reading of its 2017 tax rates Tuesday.

The county had about $138 million more in residential, linear, and non-residential growth than it expected last year due to the completion of major projects such as the Atco Electric Heathfield substation, said county general manager of corporate support Rick Wojtkiw. That growth meant that the average homeowner will pay about $20 more in school tax and $3 less in seniors’ tax this year compared to last, in contrast to the $85 and $1 increase in those taxes, respectively, projected at budget time.

The upshot is that council can now afford to lower taxes by 1.22 per cent instead of raising them by 1.315 as the budget suggested, Wojtkiw said. The owner of a typical $502,650 home will pay $7 less in property taxes this year than last (not including utilities) instead of $35 more as had been predicted at budget time should this tax cut be approved.

Seven dollars is enough to buy a box of 20 Timbits at Tim Hortons.

Council moved to approve the tax cut and to sock $218,000 into its contingency reserve.

Coun. Jerry Kaup said this was an exciting day for the county, and hoped that the county had reached the point where strong growth would be a regular occurrence so that council could build reserves and pay down debt.

The tax law returns for second and third reading later this month.

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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.