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Wednesday , 21 October 2020

Local leaders talk next steps after receiving 2019 ID349 funds

More details have come out about the ID349 (Cold Lake Air Weapons Range tax revenues) money that was released to municipalities for the 2019 year last week.

Cold Lake is receiving just over $16 million, Bonnyville is getting almost a $3 million bump to $7.5 million, the M.D. of Bonnyville is receiving $2.2 million for road maintenance to the Air Weapons Range, and the Village of Glendon is receiving nearly $1.5 million.

The funding appears to have started with a base grant of $1 million than a share of per capita distribution from the Improvement District.

Fishing Lake and Elizabeth Metis Settlements were not involved in this “one-time” arrangement, said Minister of Municipal Affairs, Kaycee Madu, but will receive money from other government sources as they figure out a way a sustainable way to help these areas.

He said they could not receive tax revenues under the Municipal Government Act.

Municipalities have been waiting several months for this funding after the Ministry decided to pull the 2019 money late last year, putting a lot of uncertainty on how they were going to execute their budgets.

Now, the stakeholders will have to come back to the table to come up with a long-term solution to the ID before the 2020 money is released.

‘It’s critical’

Cold Lake mayor Craig Copeland said he didn’t agree with the NDP government’s changes to the ID349 arrangement in 2017 and was pleased to see the funding released.

“It’s critical. We were facing some pretty bleak summer here where cash flow is getting pretty low. It allows some clarification,” said Copeland.

“It actually verified what city council has been saying for a couple of years on if the money is going to be distributed that municipalities would be involved. And so we didn’t agree with where it was going before in 2017. And so now this here is very good clarification. And also the minister talks about regionalization. And so, of course, we’ve been saying that since the get-go in 2011.”

The City has openly been in favour of a regional government or the creation of specialized municipalities to solve the issue long-term, while other leaders in the area are not so intrigued by the idea.

“It’s very obvious that the province does not want to have [ID]349 exist anymore. So it’s called Improvement District 349, when you read the letter, it’s pretty obvious that the minister wants out of 349. And so the only way for this to happen is it’s 349 needs to dissolve and amalgamate into another municipality,” said Copeland.

“The municipality borders at the southern border, of course, is the M.D. of Bonnyville. And so the M.D. of Bonnyville will be a major player in the decision here and we’re wanting to work with the M.D. of Bonnyville on a long term solution. The Reeve and his council have been great. They’re really have changed the whole dynamics for our city on getting more involved in the goings-on in Cold Lake.”

‘It’s precedent-setting’

Reeve Greg Sawchuk said their ask hasn’t changed over the years and they were happy with what they received.

Like Copeland, he was pleased that the Minister agreed with their position back in 2017 that tax revenues should only go the municipalities and that Metis Settlements need a different funding source.

“We’re here to support them in that way. And this is not a matter of them not getting funds. This was a matter of the route that those funds were going to follow,” said Sawchuk.

“After the 2017 election where we all came in, shortly after that, I attended a meeting with the previous Minister of Municipal Affairs where we were offered to be the flow-through for funds to the settlements. And very quickly our council said, no, it doesn’t look right. It’s precedent-setting. And it’s not in agreement with the MGA.”

“So we said no, and we stood by that and even in the joint meetings, we brought it up on every occasion. In fact, at times being voted five to one against, but it was just something– we have a white book, the MGA that we have to follow, and we felt strongly enough that we took that position.”

He said the M.D. pitched the idea of absorbing the ID into their municipality and fixing a funding formula through a ministerial order so each municipality could somewhat anticipate what they’re receiving every year.

But, he isn’t fond of the idea of regional government.

“I think it’s best that we divide those funds out to the municipalities and let them make the decisions. I think they’re far more qualified to make a decision on their own local environment than having that decision influenced by somebody outside.”

‘I think there is ministerial discretion’

The Town of Bonnyville was the flow-through of funds to the Metis Settlements since 2017 and mayor Gene Sobolewski said the current minister hasn’t said anything to him about contravening the MGA.

He said he had a different understanding of this year’s agreement.

“I don’t know exactly what the minister said because he hasn’t communicated that to me. But I know a previous minister is diametrically opposed to the current minister’s opinion. So who is right, who is wrong? That’s an issue way beyond my paygrade. But the minister did not communicate to me what you have just said in terms of not being part of, or having a fund from another source,” said Sobolewski.

“I personally think that the settlements are, that particular act is created under statute, no different than the municipalities. And I think there is ministerial discretion. But I think that’s an issue that has to be dealt with by the Minister.

“You’ve just raised an issue that’s probably going to be quite controversial and justifiably so. And we’ll have to navigate through that. That’s probably going to be one the challenges that we deal with in moving forward,” he said.

Sobolewski said the Town was elated when they heard news of the money they’d receive for 2019, more than they anticipated.

Now, it’s time to sort out a long-term solution moving forward.

“The bottom line is that the parties are going to have to sit down, the same group again, as I understand it, we’re going to have to sit down we’re gonna have to take a very sobering look at it and be able to move forward.

“We’re going to, obviously, have disagreements in terms of the interpretation as to what that means, and is that wholesale regionalization, it’s too premature to talk about, but I know with the minister I also spoke about a number of a lot of positives that we have now and it’s being able to to move forward.”

Lakeland Connect is awaiting comment from the Metis Settlements.

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connect Media. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.