ROCKY VIEW FORWARD
The Residents' Perspective
Division 7 - Balzac
Construction on the new municipal Office (often referred to as the county palace or Taj Mahal) is underway. The shell of this 3-storey building in east Balzac has been completed at a cost to date of $10.5 million, one quarter of its $42 million budget. This controversial project was never put to the public for input and is viewed by the majority of taxpayers as a colossal waste of money.
The budget is rumoured to be grossly under-estimated. The majority of funds will come from provincial grants. This grant money could otherwise be used to fix roads, create better fire services or pay down the County debt. No one will argue that the existing municipal building requires updating, however, the cost to renovate would have been significantly lower than the cost of this new build.
To make matters worse, prior to its construction it was referred to as the Municipal Building in County correspondence, once construction began the name changed to the County Hall and finding information on the topic on the County's website was difficult. While this issue has been somewhat rectified, the County has been somewhat lax in keeping residents updated on its progress in that information on its construction progress is never reported in any media outlet and can only be found on its website.
To view the financial progress report on the Municipal Building - click here. Or here to see pictures of its construction.
Balzac-Langdon Waste Water Treatment Facility
The division’s southeast corner is where the County implemented a so-called "made-in-Rocky View" strategy that consisted in fronting the costs of building urban water and sewage infrastructure to service intensive commercial and industrial uses in the Balzac east area.
The declared purpose was to create more non-residential tax revenue - the real effect was huge expenses that 10 years later, according to the County's audited financial statments, remain in the form of a $58-million long-term debt. An amount that was recently exposed by Rocky View County to be inaccurate as it omits an additional $30-million, about half of which is money belonging to tax payers and the other half owed to developers.
The plan started on the wrong foot when the County approved large proposals without having previously secured a water source. This made headlines across the country and forced County officials to purchase, at an unprecedented cost of $15-million of taxpayer money, a water licence from the Western Irrigation District. County officials stated that all the money borrowed to build the infrastructure would be repaid by user fees and special purpose levies.
Projections presented to Council in 2005 anticipated $40 million in developers’ levies would be flowing to County coffers in five years. However, in spite of approving several large commercial developments such as the CrossIron Mills mall and other retail centres, wastewater levies collected from 2006 to 2012 averaged $1.5 million per year, barely covering the debt interests and forcing the County to skip annual payments.
The levies came short of covering the annual debt service, prompting the use of $3 million of taxpayers’ money in 2012.
It later became clear that the wastewater levies in place were simply too low. In addition, the levies were not reviewed in 2011 and 2012, in spite of a commitment to perform annual reviews. After levies were finally overhauled in 2013, the New Horizon mall being constructed in Balzac was to pay $4 million in levies for wastewater services. However, an amendment introduced by area Coun. Lois Habberfield reduced the payment by almost two-thirds, to $1.5 million. The County is also subsidizing the operations of the wastewater services.
To allow for increased servicing when the facility reaches capacity, more funds will be required to upgrade the system. It was recently discussed by Council that this expansion may need to occur as soon as the OMNI ASP is approved. It has been estimated that this cost will come in at $50 million.
Division 7 has been represented by the same councillor for the last 16 years. Lois Habberfield who was first elected in 2001 and became an active proponent of the made-in-Rocky View strategy, being elected deputy reeve and reeve during implementation of the strategy.