St. Albert and Sturgeon County have a long history as neighbours, and it will be that way for a long time to come. In fact, the county will begin to look a lot like St. Albert, at least in the area between the city and CFB Edmonton where the county’s municipal development plan calls for urban-like densities and a population projected at 65,000. St. Albert is about 70,000 today.
As that "rural" population steadily grows, the number of residents seeking recreation in St. Albert will continue to grow, too. Many view St. Albert as their urban base. They shop in St. Albert, work in St, Albert, attend events in St. Albert, send their children to school in St. Albert, and register them in St. Albert’s recreational programs. And that’s a good thing. The money they spend in St. Albert supports the city’s economy. Their involvement in urban life makes us a better city.
Unfortunately, municipal budgets, especially those with small, non-residential tax bases, are especially stretched at this time and councillors are motivated to find solutions that don’t raise the ire of local taxpayers. Along with almost every other service, the cost of providing recreational services is growing and that was bound to catch their eye. It certainly caught Coun. Sheena Hughes’s eye, prompting her to bring a motion to next Monday’s council meeting that would have the residents of Sturgeon County pay a fee to access St. Albert’s facilities.
This latest iteration of the rec facilities issue is not a new one. We’ve seen variations of it several times in the past, most recently when St. Albert residents were finding it difficult to register their children in rec programs because so many non-residents beat them to it, at least that was the charge at the time. The solution then was to give residents a head start, by allowing them to register a few days before opening registrations to non-residents.
The argument fails, however, when others in the region begin to implement similar rules. Imagine how that would gum up the system in a complicated web of rules and fees across the region. As tempting as they may appear to be, non-resident fees are not a practical solution.
The practical solution was spelled out in the new Municipal Government Act (MGA), which required all municipalities to reach inter-municipal collaboration agreements (ICF) with their neighbours, until the UCP government exempted municipalities which belonged to regional boards. St. Albert and the County of Sturgeon both belong to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB).
It seems clear that regardless of whether the MGA makes these agreements optional, we truly have only one choice. The City of St. Albert and the County of Sturgeon need to sit down together and negotiate a new ICF. Both have templates in place from the agreements already made with other neighbours and that should facilitate a speedy resolution. Set a deadline to get it done and put a moratorium on any new fees in the meantime. The Devil may be in the details but, it sure seems simple on the surface.
Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.