Specialized municipality status, why?

Hopefully, you are all managing to stay well and in good spirits. Although the County has cancelled a couple of Council meetings and a number of committee meetings, there are a number of initiatives that are pushing full steam ahead and we want to make sure you are aware of this.

With some reluctance, we are reminding people of the County’s survey on its proposed specialized municipality initiative. The survey is open until Monday, April 13th and can be accessed on the County’s website here.

Our reluctance is due to what we see as a seriously flawed consultation process. Even before the world shifted with the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought the County’s consultation plan was insufficient. A few poorly advertised open houses and one on-line survey were hardly enough to inform residents of why the County should change its status from a rural municipality to a specialized municipality. Changing the County’s status will fundamentally change the County’s governance structure for all residents in ways that, in our opinion, have not been adequately explained.

We found the survey itself to be highly questionable. While all surveys have some built-in bias, well-designed surveys attempt to overcome such biases. In contrast, the County’s specialized municipality survey is full of loaded questions that make it virtually impossible to do anything other than agree with “motherhood” statements that will almost certainly be used as evidence of support for specialized municipality status when the County presents its findings to the Province.

The County’s information provides no compelling explanation for why residents should support this initiative. In fact, neither the survey nor its supporting material provides any meaningful information to help residents understand why Rocky View would benefit from becoming a specialized municipality.

To provide a bit of context, Rocky View Forward did some research. We found that just under 40% of all rural municipalities have identifiable hamlets that account for more than 15% of their total populations and 25% of all rural municipalities have one hamlet that accounts for more than 10% of its total population. Rocky View has one sizable hamlet, Langdon, with about 5,000 residents. Langdon residents already pay higher taxes to receive extra services. This is a reality that is overlooked in the County’s sales pitch for specialized municipality status. The other hamlets used as reasons why Rocky View “needs” specialized municipality status are, in the current economy, pipedreams at best. Harmony is building out slowly; Glenbow Ranch doesn’t even have a shovel in the ground.

Furthermore, Rocky View doesn’t look like any of the existing specialized municipalities. The two most frequently used examples – Strathcona and Wood Buffalo – each include the equivalent of a small city combined with significant surrounding rural areas. To compare Langdon with the populations of these urban centres misses the mark. Sherwood Park, at just over 70,000, accounts for 70% of Strathcona County’s population; Fort McMurray, at 66,000, accounts for 60% of Wood Buffalo’s. In contrast, Langdon accounts for a mere 13% of Rocky View’s population.

The remaining specialized municipalities are also all “special” in their own right – but, again, not comparable to Rocky View. Jasper’s population of about 5,000 is jointly governed by its municipality and Parks Canada. Mackenzie County is the geographically largest municipality in Alberta and obtained specialized municipality status to deal with the difficulties managing such a large, sparsely populated area. Crowsnest Pass brought together five financially challenged small towns and the intervening rural areas. Lac La Biche County, the most recently formed specialized municipality, was created to maintain the split mill-rate it had been allowed to carry forward when the town of Lac La Biche had earlier amalgamated with the rural municipality of Lakeland County. Simply put, for these municipalities, specialization makes sense.

We want to make it clear that we do not oppose Rocky View becoming a specialized municipality. However, given the information the County has provided, we do not understand the rationale or the implications of the changes that might be undertaken as a specialized municipality. That said, we encourage you to read the information provided and complete the survey. Perhaps you will find something more than we did. If not, please make sure to let Administration know that you would like more information and engagement opportunities to allow you to make a more informed decision as to whether or not you support Rocky View becoming a specialized municipality.

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