Sturgeon County is not alone. It has about 12 towns, cities, and counties as neighbours, plus the federal and provincial government, and has to deal with them all through groups such as the Capital Region Board. And when it comes time to talk, it will be the county’s mayor who will be sitting at the negotiating table.
In this final mayoral Q&A, the Gazette asked county candidates Alanna Hnatiw and Tom Flynn how they would improve Sturgeon County’s relations with its neighbours.
Better, but developing relations
In her written statement, Hnatiw said the county currently had “favourable and apparently collaborative” relations with its neighbours.
“These relationships are very critical, as we run the risk of compromising our autonomy and therefore identity.”
While regional collaboration was important to gather government funds for infrastructure, Hnatiw said there had to be careful thought and dialogue in the county about entering deals with other governments and the private sector.
Flynn said the county’s relations with its towns, neighbours, and the province had come a long way since four years ago. The previous council fared poorly in this area, and he knew improving relations would be critical for the county’s success.
Flynn said he intentionally reached out to local mayors at the start of his term to mend fences, and now has regular monthly dinner meetings with them. The county had formed an intergovernmental advisory committee with St. Albert, had much stronger relations with Edmonton and Morinville (although he acknowledged they were still working on the latter’s new rec-centre), and recently signed a regional emergency response plan. Instead of spending millions on an annexation fight as Leduc County did with Edmonton, his council negotiated a friendly land deal with St. Albert for the cost of a few lunches.
When asked how she would improve intergovernmental relations, Hnatiw said council had to do more to ensure residents were informed of and onside with what was happening.
“Many residents are not aware that the (municipal development plan) and (land-use bylaw) were revised to align with what has been provincially mandated,” she said, or of the existence of the new Edmonton Global economic group.
She said she would improve relations by “understanding the past, but encouraging focus on the future.”
Flynn said he would continue to cultivate relations with local leaders and had already reached out to talk with Morinville mayor-elect Barry Turner.
When it came to defending the county’s interests, Hnatiw said that delays in mitigating traffic issues around the Sturgeon Refinery showed that the current council had done a poor job on that front.
“We knew the (refinery) was coming long before the current county leadership came in. Why did the previous and current council not act on getting infrastructure in place?”
Flynn said the county had an effective voice at the Capital Region Board, where they had successfully moved to protect agricultural land, allow for new subdivisions on poor soils, and permit highway commercial development.
“We have to be thinking long-term for the entire region,” he said.
The county was now also developing a growth plan for the Sturgeon Valley in co-operation with St. Albert and Edmonton, one that would likely allow for denser developments and help pay for the realignment of 127th St., Flynn continued. He hoped to have a rough draft of it in about six months.
When it came to support for Morinville’s rec-centre, Hnatiw said the county should have taken a more serious look at it two years ago and done the business case for it sooner.
“Had that been done, this election could have been the opportunity for a plebiscite to ask the residents what their informed opinion was.”
The county now has a business case for the rec-centre and will start consultation sessions and possibly a resident survey early next year to see what residents think about it, Flynn said. While he envisioned the county making a “reasonably substantial” contribution to the project, council had to find a contribution formula that was fair to all county communities.
“My sense has always been that we’re willing to participate (in the rec-centre) and willing to contribute. We just have to talk to our public.”
When asked about the county amalgamating with other communities, Hnatiw said that it could increase collaboration and capacity while reducing redundancies, but also create the risk of losing community identity. Regional service districts or specialized municipalities would require a strong regional vision.
Flynn said he would be “very nervous” about amalgamation, saying that many of the towns he spoke with wanted to keep their identities. While the county was already sharing services with others (such as fire and finance), amalgamating or forming a specialized municipality would result in a big tax hike for county residents and a tax cut for town-dwellers due to tax rate differences, as well as a jump in the county’s debt. The county could also lose representation on council, as the towns would have more population.
“What we have to do is make sure we’re working out the right frameworks with each of the towns so we’re contributing to the things that are needed,” he said, while also providing extra benefits to county residents.
County residents can vote in advance at the Sturgeon County Centre this Oct. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and at a large number of other sites on Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Visit sturgeoncounty.ca for an interactive map of poll locations.