Joint servicing off to slow start

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Mayor contends idea favours county more than city

Sturgeon County might be interested in exploring joint servicing of lands between its boundaries and St. Albert’s, but it hasn’t done its homework yet.

Both Sturgeon and St. Albert councils met on Wednesday to discuss common points of interest. While Sturgeon raised the idea of joint servicing at a previous meeting between the two councils, only St. Albert came prepared.

“We presented our paper that we accepted Monday night, [but]they weren’t prepared to discuss that any further. It was a little awkward because they didn’t have their stuff done,” said Mayor Nolan Crouse.

Deputy-Mayor Ken McGillis, who stood in for absent Sturgeon Mayor Don Rigney, said only that the county is interested in exploring future servicing.

“We didn’t come back. We haven’t formally prepared any response to it yet,” McGillis said.

At issue is whether or not St. Albert wants to give up exclusive control of its utilities and the complexity of organizing such an arrangement. In a report prepared for city council Monday night, planning and engineering general manager Guy Boston said the process could prove lengthy and arduous.

“It’s exclusive use of ownership protected by our bylaws,” Boston said Monday. “Doing anything else gives up city control for city benefit. It’s turned over to a third party both in establishment and the control of rates.”

It is also more complicated than just agreeing to share water and sewer services, said Boston. Besides giving up control, the two municipalities would need to co-ordinate land use required for joint servicing and enshrine that in the city’s development plans. There would also need to be synchronization of approvals and standards in the area.

“There are many complex legal issues that need to be documented and even a collaborative effort to institute a joint servicing agreement could take anywhere from three to 10 years,” Boston said.

“A third party — would that take away our own ability to set our own rates inside our own boundaries?” Coun. Wes Brodhead asked.

“Yes that’s right,” Boston replied. “Because we’re setting rates, we have to make application to the [Alberta Utilities Commission] with whatever our rates are to get approval for rate setting.”

But there is a certain unease in striking another agreement with Sturgeon after the county unilaterally pulled out of the Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP) earlier this year. Brodhead indicated as much when he asked Boston Monday if any language could be drafted that would prohibit any signatory to such an agreement from withdrawing.

“I don’t know if you can put a document together that would preserve that agreement,” Boston replied.

McGillis wouldn’t say whether or not having the IDP in place would make bringing joint servicing to fruition any easier, but repeated Sturgeon’s enthusiasm for exploring some sort of arrangement with the city.

“The benefits going forward, and this is my personal opinion, are you could do it on a co-operative basis so that it enhances the opportunity to move forward with developments that might be hamstrung on a servicing basis,” he said.”

While the deal might make sense further down the road, Crouse said it would take a lot of work.

“It’s very complicated. In order to have that, you need to have a set of principles on how you are going to move forward,” Crouse said. “Right now it’s more of a need for the county than it is for the city and they weren’t ready yesterday.”

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