Land annexation process begins

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Annexation area could be as large as 2,200 hectares

It will cost St. Albert more than $2.6 million to annex as many as 2,200 hectares from Sturgeon County, but will allow for 80 years of projected growth.

The city could finish the process by the end of 2019. The move comes after both councils signed a memorandum of agreement Feb. 28 for an uncontested annexation.

“I think the uncontested manner in which this is proceeding speaks to the time, the focus and importance that both of our councils … have placed on this process,” Coun. Tim Osborne said. “It’s a big milestone.”

Mayor Nolan Crouse described beginning this process as a “special day” that will set the city up for decades to come.

“I don’t know that we can really appreciate how special it is,” he said. “The next 10 to 20 councils will appreciate it.”

But while council approved the terms of reference for annexation, directed administration to begin the process by June and ultimately approved the spending several city councillors have balked at the total cost. Council had earlier been told it would be $1 million, which was the cost of only the first stage of the project.

The $2.6 million price, which will span the three years of the project, includes $855,000 for staff, $1.6 million for background studies and impact assessments, and another $152,500 for legal costs and compiling the report. The city is responsible for the full costs of the annexation, as per the MOA with the county.

About $1 million will come from money allocated from the 2016 surplus, while the remaining $1.6 million will come from the off-site levy recovery fund.

Coun. Sheena Hughes said that as recently as a March 20 discussion about how to spend the 2016 budget surplus, administration indicated the cost of the annexation would be around $1 million, and council directed that a portion of the surplus would be used to fund that expense.

“I wish we had had adequate disclosure of the costs up front,” Hughes said, suggesting council was misled and is now “boxed in” with the price.

Coun. Cam MacKay said knowing the full cost at the time the city signed the MOA might have changed how council felt about bearing the full cost.

“It’s at that time the total costs of the annexation should have been very well known to us,” he said. “It should have been part of the negotiation.”

Development services manager Gilles Prefontaine said the $1 million price quoted at the time was just for the first year of the three-year project, while city manager Kevin Scoble conceded administration could have been clearer about the costs.

“What I’m hearing today is this has arisen before and we need to provide a better total financial commitment on these type of things,” he said. “We’ve been clear on the annual, but we need to provide a total commitment for the projects.”

Coun. Bob Russell, the only councillor to vote against the proposal, said he wasn’t comfortable with many of the specific costs, including staffing and some of the required reports.

The purpose of the annexation is to promote growth in line with the Capital Region Board growth plan, and also to make it easier and cheaper to service new development areas through the city’s off-site levy recovery model, which has developers paying the cost if infrastructure is needed for growth.

At this point, city officials expect an uncontested annexation based on years of discussion with the county and signing a memorandum of agreement Feb. 28 that establishes how an annexation might take place, including the maximum potential annexation area. The annexation area comprises roughly 2,200 ha of Sturgeon County along St. Albert’s west, north and east borders.

The process, which would be managed by the development services department, would include five stages: filing the required documents with the province by June 2017, conducting background studies beginning June 2017, starting public consultation beginning October 2017, having an annexation report completed by August 2019, and getting a decision from the provincial Municipal Government Board by December 2019.

The exact annexation area would be established in the first phase. Prefontaine said once the intent-to-annex document is filed with the province, administration would recommend appointing members to a committee to handle any negotiations.

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Doug Neuman