Why care about the annexation?


St. Albert residents could see a lighter tax load if a proposed annexation with Sturgeon County goes through, says the head of this city’s chamber of commerce.

St. Albert and Sturgeon County struck a joint committee this month to negotiate an annexation. If approved, St. Albert would take up to 2,180 hectares of land from the county (equivalent to about two Morinvilles) and add it to its borders.

The two governments started these talks because the county realized that the city needed land to grow and that the city was better suited to do the higher-density development the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board wants in this area, said St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron. The annexation also ties in with ongoing talks on the Sturgeon Valley region with the county and Edmonton and the future realignment of 127th Street.

“It’s more about the future residents,” Heron said of the annexation – St. Albert only has about 15 years of land available to develop, and will need more for the residents of 20 years from now.

While the annexation will mostly affect future residents of this region, it will have some near-term effects, such as the estimated $2.6-million cost for the studies and legal fees the annexation involves.

It could also affect the tax rates of anyone in the annexed area. County residents there would become St. Albert ones if the annexation were approved, which could mean city-level taxes and services.

Tax rates in the annexed zones are one of the many items up for negotiation, said county Coun. Susan Evans, who chairs the St. Albert/Sturgeon annexation negotiation committee. Annexation deals typically include steps to shield residents from tax changes.

All about the future

This deal is very important to the future growth of St. Albert, said St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce chair Brian Bachynski.

“Right now there’s an incredible lack of shovel-ready land for the development of business in St. Albert,” Bachynski said.

The Lakeview Business District will cost tens of millions to service and won’t start development until Ray Gibbon Drive gets twinned, Bachynski said. The chamber believes the annexed area will be serviced much sooner, as St. Albert, Sturgeon and Edmonton are already in talks to do so.

“More business in St. Albert is good for St. Albert,” Bachynski said.

Using these lands for light industrial development would improve the city’s residential/non-residential tax split, which would lighten the tax burden on homeowners and help the city keep up with rising costs.

This is good long-term planning that sets up about 40 to 50 years worth of development, said Art Valerio, chairperson of the St. Albert-Sturgeon Service Solutions Group – a partnership between Four Corners Projects, Landrex, Triple 5, and Melcor that aims to co-operatively plan and pay for water and sewer service on their lands in the annexed area. It will allow for the denser, more affordable housing that the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board wants, and bring servicing closer to county residents.

“What this does is allow for long-term sustainability for St. Albert.”

The annexation could be a double-edged sword for county business owners, said Shaun Thompson, president of the Morinville & District Chamber of Commerce. It could draw more jobs, people, and businesses to this region, but it could also pull customers away from places such as Morinville.

Riverlot 56 could flip inside St. Albert’s borders if this annexation goes through, but that won’t change much, said Riverlot 56 Natural Area Society treasurer Georges Binette. The group already works closely with Sturgeon County and St. Albert to steward this land, and so long as the city forgives the group’s taxes each year as the county does, not much would change.

“It wouldn’t really change anything, as it’s still provincial land.”

The annexation committee’s terms of reference suggest that these talks will take about three years. Final approval of the annexation is up to the province.

Visit goo.gl/zkRezv for more on the annexation.


About Author

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.