Mayor of Cold Lake, Craig Copeland gave a State of the City Address at the Cold Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce AGM on Wednesday, updating a room full of local business owners with the the local economy and future projects. One of the biggest factors to the continued sustainability of the city is the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR) money, says the mayor.
Mayor Copeland explains that the CLAWR or ID-349 Agreement money accounts for 40 percent of the City’s Budget, roughly $25 million. To balance the budget the remainder comes from residential and commercial taxes. “CLAWR brought in over $100 million dollars to our city in a short time frame. It’s new money. We don’t have it in the bank, it’s all committed to capital and operating; we’ve invested it all into the City of Cold Lake to make it a better place to live.”
CLAWR has allowed the City to hold the line in taxes, says the mayor, “Cold Lake was one of the highest taxed cities in all of Alberta. It’s made a huge change to our city.” The ID-349 Agreement, was supposed to transition to Cold Lake after five years, says Copeland, who points out on flaw in the agreement, “when you’re a poor person and someone presents an agreement to you that looks pretty good, you’re going to take it.” The flaw is that the CLAWR is an island that is not physically connected to the City of Cold Lake’s land, “it’s unfortunate that there was not land taken from the MD of Bonnyville and given to the City of Cold Lake so that there’s a land bridge. It’s probably the biggest flaw in the deal.” It’s a unique piece of property utilized by industry with the taxes going to the City of Cold Lake.
Being the fifth year of the five year agreement, neighbouring municipalities; have indicated that they would like some of the money from CLAWR, “no one seemed to have a problem when all the taxes, went to then Lakeland County (which is now Lac La Biche County),” Mayor Copeland questions why now that they money is planned to come to Cold Lake that neighbouring municipalities are requesting a piece. “It’s very frustrating for us as a Council and for administration; because what it’s meant for us to plan out the City, we’re in limbo.”
The City has been in discussion with the Provincial Government for the last two years to have the money transition to the City, as the original agreement intended, says the mayor.
The Mayor has always stated he is for regionalization, “I believe it’s time we have a serious discussion.” Pointing out Lac La Biche and Strathcona Counties as examples of what’s possible. “It’s time that the rural people and the urban people get back together and manage their municipalities.”
Copeland believes regionalization is the only answer to this region having enough money to be sustainable and grow, “my biggest concern is the Province is not putting any new money in this area. We’re going to have to work together, rural governments and urban governments to spend the money properly.”
“We can’t be going back to the tax payers, residential or commercial, and asking for five percent increases every year.” Copeland believes there is reasoning for two Counties in the area to take over several municipalities; a Bonnyville County and Cold Lake County, he suggests. “How else are you going to have enough money to build the pool Bonnyville wants? You need $50 million for a pool. You’re not going to get that [from Bonnyville’s assessment].”
Copeland suggests that all the municipalities come together and amalgamate. Creating one large county or two counties from Glendon, Bonnyville, the MD and the City; dividing the assessments and making “smart spending choices for the region.”
Cold Lake Transit
Having just received an innovation award from the Province for its transit service, Mayor Copeland says the City is proud to provide free transportation to the residents, “we’re comfortable with the deficit. I know some people think we should charge riders,” the mayor explains there’s another side to charging riders, “we’re concerned about the drivers. If they had $200-300 in change, are they at risk for any potential crime.” On top of that there would be increase in administration costs for managing the money, which would nearly eliminate the costs, “is it worth it? We feel it’s not,” states Copeland.
Phase III of the Energy Centre
The new back road from the Energy Centre has been completed, giving people another option to get to Cold Lake North from the popular centre. “There will be some roads and parking lots over the summer. We’ve done the back road to 16th avenue. When you come into the Energy Centre you’ll see a new entrance that’ll take you all the way to the back. We’re going to change that look,” the mayor explains the updates to the roads and parking lots have a lot to do with the expected increase in capacity.
Renovations to the Energy Centre will cost just over $20 million, “with the second arena, there’s going to be a lot of cool new features,” some of the features include a climbing wall, upstairs lounge for concerts and Jr B Hockey games and break out rooms. “We’re going to be able to host a lot of tournaments in Cold Lake.”
Other planned updates to the Energy Centre are a large gymnastic and dance centre, additional field houses, an artificial turf sports field for football, soccer and rugby; as well as a new high school for Lakeland Catholic School District, and eventually even a water park facility. “Council’s plan has always been to build onto Imperial Park – the Energy Centre. We see it as a place parents can go with their kid; a one stop shop,” says Copeland. “It’ll really bring a lot of visitors to Cold Lake and we’re trying to improve restaurant and hotel stays.”
Updates to Kinosoo Beach are all but finished, explains the mayor, “hopefully, will be done by mid-summer. The zipline will be up and running by Canada Day.” The City is looking into more paths and walkways for people, “we are looking whether the Government will let us build a boardwalk from the beginning of the water treatment plant, go around aqua point and come down to the Marina,” Mayor Copeland says long time residents will remember the gravel path around aqua point, “it would be pretty neat to link the Marina.”
Commercial Air Service
The City received CATSA approval and has been pursuing commercial air service for the last year, explains Mayor Copeland, “we’re finally getting to where we need to be. Now we’re trying to get an airline service to come to Cold Lake.” The mayor says the plan would be service to Calgary and doesn’t believe it will take away from neighbouring Bonnyville’s air service with Integra Air. “Integra Air goes outside of Calgary International, we are not interested in that. We want service that lands at Calgary International.”
CATSA allows for screened baggage service, so passengers could check their bags in Cold Lake and continue onto connected flights out of Calgary without having to re-check their luggage. “Now it’s just finding an airline carrier that wants to come to Cold Lake.” Mayor Copeland says Edmonton flights do not appear to be feasible because of the cost.
Real Estate & Development
“Housing starts in Cold Lake continue to drop, like the last two years. There’s a little bit of activity,” Copeland says he’s heard of some development just across the Saskatchewan border near Pierceland, “chances are Cold Lake will be the destination for the workers and industry.” There is still a big difference from the 2014 peeks, “you drive around at night and everyone can see there’s a big change in hotels and restaurants from three years ago.”
Assessments and Taxes
The City is expecting a two percent mill rate increase to help balance the assessment. The mayor explains that as the assessment goes down, the City must balance the budget by bringing the mill rate up. The amount of taxes a property owner pays are determined by multiplying the mill rate by the assessed value of the property. Property owners also pay Education Tax to the Province of Alberta, which is collected by the City of Cold Lake. The City does not determine that tax.