New mayors have taken over the helm in St. Albert and Sturgeon County at an important point in regional history. Over the years the two adjoining municipalities have had a rocky history. This last term they managed to mend fences. In March of this year the municipalities signed a memorandum of understanding to negotiate annexation on their joint boundaries.
The agreement commits both municipalities to creating a joint committee to determine which of these lands will be annexed. That committee is to set out how St. Albert will support development of a land use plan for the Sturgeon Valley, discuss joint-servicing options outside of the annexed area, and create plans for transition zones between the city and the county.
The approach was intended to save both councils time and money compared to a more adversarial approach readers will remember from the the last annexation 15 years ago. It is vital to the success of both municipalities that they maintain the ground they have gained to date.
The MOU was the result of nearly four years of talks that the two mayors agreed to enter into when they were elected in 2013. A similar agreement may be needed by the two mayors elected Monday evening.
There was a time when elected officials could war freely against each other to hold sway with their local ratepayers. New provincial rules to take effect later this year will make for a different playing field. Under the new Municipal Government Act all municipalities will have to co-operate with their neighbours either through a group like the Capital Region Board or a similar agreement.
St. Albert mayor elect Cathy Heron said the biggest regional issue is boundary adjustment with Sturgeon County. In a recent Q and A with the Gazette on regional collaboration Heron stated: “Prosperity in the region equates to prosperity for St. Albert.” She also said: “We live in a symbiotic relationship with Edmonton, Sturgeon County and beyond and therefore cannot act in isolation.”
Heron is right in that St. Albert cannot exist in a bubble, we need to work with all our neighbours and maintain good relationships. Mayors Nolan Crouse and Tom Flynn got the ball rolling on the annexation agreement, but both Heron and new Sturgeon County mayor Alanna Hnatiw will be the ones responsible for finishing the job. There will no doubt be future negotiations on other regional issues, but any success starts with a decision to work together.
These days there are few municipalities that can go it alone. Regional projects are a fact of life in the capital region as municipalities navigate shared boundaries and how to provide the best services and get the best value for their tax dollars. Crouse and Flynn made a conscious decision to work together at the start of the last term – we need both Heron and Hnatiw to build on that success.