“It is unorthodox but at the same time — we are getting their attention.”
These were the words of Ponoka Mayor Rick Bonnett after he spoke to Lacombe City Council regarding the Town of Ponoka’s choice to withhold school taxes from the Province of Alberta.
The choice came after the Town and the Province failed to come to an agreement on a infrastructure funding model for a new fieldhouse. The Province estimated contribution to the project is slated at roughly $4.5 million.
The Ponoka Mayor was in Lacombe looking for a letter of support regarding the project.
“We have been down the road multiple times with the provincial government and the federal government. This is something where our frustration has been growing for 14 to 15 years now,” Bonnett said.
“We are now to the point where we want to move forward or else we will have to tell our citizens that it is off the books. We don’t want to do that — we want to continue to push.”
While rare, Bonnett said the idea is not unprecedented — with the Province earlier in 2018 saying they would cover education taxes associated with new developments (potentially a new Calgary arena) in Calgary’s Victoria Park area.
“They have done it in Calgary. They gave them 20 years, so they set the precedent,” Bonnett said. “We are just trying to give some solutions and other ideas.
While unique, Bonnett said the idea behind the plan was actually to allow the Province more time to cover their portion of the project.
“Instead of them giving us the full $4.5 million — they can give us $1.5 million(rough estimate of school tax) per year for four years,” he said. “It is a better way to fund it and all we are doing is cutting off the education portion for four years.”
The reason that the Town of Ponoka ultimately came to this decision, according to Bonnett, is that rural communities are being “neglected” by the Province. This is why Bonnett feels its important to gain support from other communities like Lacombe.
“We feel this is not just a stand for Ponoka — we feel this is a stand for moving forward to get a lot of government grants for all municipalities throughout Alberta,” he said.
Bonnett stressed that the Town of Ponoka did not come to this choice lightly.
“We are talking about the education of our children,” he said. “This is not college education — this is our young minds who will be our future leaders.
“That is why it was really hard, but at the same time they pushed this down to municipalities when it should have been taken care of by this province all along.”
The it he is referring to is the current system where Albertan municipalities collect the school tax on behalf of the Province.
“It is one thing to use the formula to figure out how much they should pay for each school board but to actually make us collect it, send it in and then tell us we are going to give you some of the money you collected — it sits really bad with municipalities and has been talked about for years,” he said.
“MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) is great but it is only a portion of what we collect in taxes as a municipality.”
Ultimately, Bonnett said he wants to see a wholesale different infrastructure funding model for municipalities
“We are looking for change of how the model is set up.,” he said. “Once we get the change on that side, we will see where it goes. The only way you make change is to actually step on some toes.
“We are going to be the mavericks who will take that shot.”
Bonnett thanked the City of Lacombe for inviting him to speak. Lacombe Council tabled discussion on the issue until a further date but many Counsellors did show tepid support.