The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range Agreement remains the city’s top priority as council awaits meaningful discussions on the future of the agreement – and the future of the City of Cold Lake.
At its regular council meeting on November 28, 2017, council passed its list of strategic priorities. The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range Agreement sat at the top of the list, again. The city was notified it would lose approximately $10 million annually after Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson made a unilateral decision to alter the existing agreement earlier this month.
“No one can say that the City of Cold Lake was consulted on the new arrangement, nor can anyone say we were forewarned about the impact these changes would have on the future of our city,” Mayor Craig Copeland said. “Unfortunately, we see this issue top our chart again. And, if we move forward under the present set of circumstances, our concerns will increasingly shift from the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range Agreement to the outright sustainability of our community. It is unfortunate that many misconceptions continue to cloud the public’s discourse: No one with a full picture of what happened would think Cold Lake was treated fairly.”
1) The intention of the original agreement was for the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range to transition to the City of Cold Lake permanently after five years, not for the agreement to “expire.” Any changes to the agreement were supposed to have been the result of a collaboration between the city and the Government of Alberta.
The memorandum of understanding between the City of Cold Lake and the Government of Alberta stated the following: “The parties agree to maintain open and collaborative communications to achieve the principles and objectives setout herein. The parties agree to collaborate on public statements relating to the changes in the municipal boundaries and the revenue sharing agreements….This memorandum may be amended through mutual written agreement of the parties.”
No collaboration with the City of Cold Lake on any of the changes took place. No forewarning of the changes were given to Cold Lake. Meetings with Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson and the City of Cold Lake regarding the agreement and the city’s sustainability were limited to the following:
- March 23, 2017: Attended by Mayor Copeland and Councillor Bob Buckle. Some background to the original agreement was discussed and an invitation for further discussions was extended to the Minister.
- August 4, 2017: Attended by CAO Kevin Nagoya and CAOs from neighbouring communities. A presentation summarizing all communities’ proposals was given.
- November 17, 2017: Attended by Mayor Copeland, CAO Nagoya and neighbouring communities. The minister’s decision was presented as final. The impact to Cold Lake is expected to be the loss of about 17 per cent of the City’s budget and about 33 per cent of the total municipal tax revenue from I.D. 349.
“We were patiently awaiting some meaningful conversation around the future of this agreement and a proposal we submitted to Municipal Affairs when we were blindsided at a meeting with the minister, his staff, and our neighbouring communities,” Copeland said. “The City of Cold Lake – the one municipality who was promised cooperation – was left out entirely. Add to this the fact that no MOUs are being signed and that this new arrangement can change on a whim, and no one should be celebrating the result.”
2) The City of Cold Lake submitted a proposal to the Government of Alberta that outlined a framework to bring both the Town of Bonnyville and the Village of Glendon revenue from the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range without negatively impacting the City of Cold Lake’s sustainability.
The city’s proposal, sent to Municipal Affairs in March of 2016, was flexible in its approach but would likely have resulted in the following distribution:
- About $3.7 million to the Town of Bonnyville in year one.
- About $270,000 to the Village of Glendon in year one.
- About $2 million to the M.D. of Bonnyville to maintain the road to the CLAWR.
- The County of Lac La Biche would be weaned off the Air Weapons Range as it already received 16 townships of land from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
o Lac La Biche had about $370,000 worth of assessment per capita in 2011, the year before the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range deal took effect, according to stats from Alberta Municipal Affairs.
o In 2017, that number grew to about $480,000 worth of assessment per capita.
o The County of Lac La Biche remains one of the richest municipalities in the province while maintaining one of the lowest residential tax rates. Further enriching the county with municipal property taxes from the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range is very hard to justify.
“Throughout this process, our neighbours have repeatedly and publically stated that they did not want to see any new arrangement negatively impact the Cold Lake,” Craig Copeland said. “When the minister told us without prior warning that we would lose $10 million annually, they quickly celebrated despite the disastrous impacts it will have to the city. Cold Lake, the only growing urban centre in our area, is also the only municipality to be negatively impacted here.”
3) The original Cold Lake Air Weapons Range Agreement was brokered to provide for the City of Cold Lake’s sustainability and required the cooperation of four municipalities.
- In 2004 property taxes in Cold Lake went up by about 14%.
- In 2005 property taxes in Cold Lake went up by about 19%.
- In 2006 property taxes in Cold Lake went up by about 10%.
- In 2007 property taxes in Cold Lake went up by about 32%.
- In 2009 the City of Cold Lake entered mediation with the Municipal District of Bonnyville, the Town of Bonnyville, and the Village of Glendon to find a regional cost sharing solution.
o All municipalities except for Cold Lake signed a deal, as they felt they were sustainable. The Town of Bonnyville sent a letter dated September 28, 2009 to the mediators stating that the Town of Bonnyville “… appreciates the dozen or more cost sharing agreements it has with the Municipal District of Bonnyville.” The letter went on to tell the then minister of municipal affairs: “We wish you well in your dealings with the City.”
- The City of Cold Lake requested that the province consider dissolving the city, but this request was followed by a provincially ordered municipal inspection in September of 2009.
o The municipal inspector had the power to recommend the removal of elected officials and senior administration. Instead, the inspector’s first finding was that “…[t]he Council of the City of Cold Lake is guided by an appropriate intent and motivation to do what it feels to be in the best long term interests of the city.”
o At a public open house, the inspector suggested that the city raise the additional revenue it needed through taxation. This suggestion was rejected, as the city had gone through a number years of massive tax hikes and had property taxes among the highest in the province.
- Taking the Town of Bonnyville’s advice, the city and the province worked together to broker the original Cold Lake Air Weapons Range Agreement. The City of Cold Lake, the Municipal District of Bonnyville, the County of Lac La Biche, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo worked together on the original agreement. Except for Cold Lake, the other municipalities have all realized permanent and lasting benefits as a result of the agreement.
“This recent decision has dismantled one of the largest examples of intermunicipal cooperation Alberta has ever seen,” Copeland said. “In its place, it leaves an arrangement that can change with the stroke of the minister’s pen. It is not stable, it is not predictable, and it will set back cooperation in our region by over a decade. We will continue to gather all information possible and weigh every option available to ensure our community can return to a position of sustainability.”
A complete list of the City of Cold Lake’s strategic priorities can be found at www.coldlake.com.