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St. Albert, Sturgeon County sign recreation cost-sharing agreement

The City of St. Albert and Sturgeon County have signed a three-year cost-sharing agreement for recreation facilities, the city announced April 28.
St. Albert and Sturgeon County have signed a three-year cost-sharing agreement for city recreation facilities, such as the soon to be re-opened Fountain Park Pool, rendered here to show what swimmers can expect to see this summer. CITY OF ST. ALBERT

The City of St. Albert and Sturgeon County have signed a three-year cost-sharing agreement for recreation facilities, the city announced April 28. 

The agreement entails the County pitching in between $260,000 and $270,000 annually over the next three years to off-set operational costs for city facilities, such as Servus Place or Fountain Park Pool. The two municipalities entered into the agreement to try and account for county residents who use city recreation facilities but who do not pay city taxes, which are used to operate the facilities.

“As part of the agreement, which expires on March 31, 2026, Sturgeon County will provide the City of St. Albert with pre-determined funding to support existing operational costs associated with the city’s recreational services, facilities or initiatives, or existing capital costs of the city’s recreational facilities,” states an April 28 news release from the city.

 For the year beginning April 1, 2023 to March 31, 2024 the county will pay $260,222 followed by $265,426.44 the next year, and $270,734.99 for the final year of the agreement.

“The agreement will be in place during a transition period while the county and city develop and implement a system to track resident usage of county and city recreational facilities,” the release says. “The tracking system will inform the development of a future funding allocation model.”

“County residents will pay the same fee as city residents to access city recreational facilities, programs, and services.”

Both Mayor Cathy Heron and Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw were unavailable for interviews.

Coun. Ken MacKay says he's glad to see the agreement come together after the municipalities have been working on it together for so long.

“We are trying to find an equitable and fair cost-sharing agreement, so it took some time and I'm happy to see that we finally were able to negotiate a fair agreement,” MacKay said. 

He also said that he hopes the cost-sharing agreement paves the way for future discussion and possible collaboration on St. Albert's future community amenities site, planned for the northwest end of the city near the county border.

“I think the challenge will be how do we get them involved in meaningful discussion and at what point do we do that,” he said. “We reached out to them and certainly provided them with an opportunity to provide feedback, but I don't know if they feel like they're just being treated like another stakeholder.”

“Maybe they need a bigger say in that and by allowing them a bigger say, we may actually end up in a situation where they may be willing to take a bigger piece of the cost sharing as well.”

When asked, Coun. Shelley Biermanski said she didn't want to rush into anything when it comes to collaborating with the county on the future community amenities facility in St. Albert, however the new cost-sharing agreement is a step in the right direction in terms of the relationship between the two municipalities.

“Things will work better in anything going in the future as long as we get these agreements done quickly and work together again,” Biermanski said.

“I think it's good that it's settled,” she said of the cost-sharing agreement. “They were discussing that before the election, and I think it could have been done sooner ... so I hope going forward,we just have a regular agreement and get things settled smoother and quicker.”

City spokesperson Wade Bendfeld said that the neighbouring municipalities have been developing the agreement since 2019. 

“This agreement reflects the shared commitment to work together for the benefit of residents and to do what is best for our communities and the region as a whole,” Bendfeld said. “We will continue to work in collaboration with our regional partners to provide quality recreation services for all residents.”

Bendfeld was unable to provide a breakdown of how the cost-sharing agreement would affect the 2023 property tax rate given the city's overall operating costs have been reduced by $260,222 for the year, however the tax rate is scheduled to be finalized by council later this month. 

As well, Bendfeld also wasn't able to say how the funding amounts were determined for each year, and suggested that would be a question for the county to answer. In turn, the county also didn't explain how the funding amount was determined.

“Sturgeon County will continue to work on developing and refining methodologies to better understand and track resident usage of recreation services,” county spokesperson Rhonda Linklater said in an email. 

As part of the agreement, Bendfeld explained, the city will provide the county with year-end financial documentation for all recreation facilities, including a breakdown of how the county's funding was applied.

The county's agreement with St. Albert follows a similar five-year contract that the municipality signed with Morinville, Bon Accord, Gibbons, Redwater, and Legal in 2021, however similar agreements between the towns and the county have been in place for years.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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