By Tim Kalinowski
The heated subject of dust control rates for farms and country residences came up for discussion once again at Cypress County council last Tuesday. Dust control is considered an extra service the county provides as a courtesy to ratepayers, and is therefore subject to yearly fees. Currently the rates sit at $100 a year for farms and $50 a year for country residences to have dust control put on by the county.
Reeve Richard Oster put the discussion in context when he pointed to the numbers to show how much of a shortfall the county is experiencing in costs versus rates currently charged for dust control.
“It works out to $505,000 dollars per year that we are subsidizing dust control,” said Oster. The Reeve was in favour of a flat fee increase of some sort to take effect next year. County staff had suggested a doubling of current fees as a first point of discussion for councillors.
Coun. Garry Lentz was adamant in his opposition to any type of fee increase for farmers and country residences for dust control.
“There is no such thing as cost recovery in the operation of a county,” said Lentz “The last time we increased the rates on private dust control we almost had a riot from the ratepayers. As a result we ended up retracting the increase.”
Lentz went on to suggest country dwelling taxpayers should perhaps even have to pay no fee considering all the services that are supplemented in hamlets by the county. He pointed to water, sidewalks and sewers as examples of county subsidization within communities.
“None of those services are provided to our rural tax payers but they are free of charge to our hamlets. And then we want to talk about charging our rural taxpayers an extra $100 a year to control dust that is created by road traffic. That’s like biting the hand that feeds you. In all fairness we should be providing free dust control to our rural residents. If it weren’t for the rural areas of the county subsidizing the hamlets those people would be paying three or four times more in taxes to provide the same services they take for granted.”
Coun. Dustin Vossler said Lentz was “fishing without a rope” in his depiction of what hamlets get versus what country residents get.
“I am going to disagree with absolutely everything you said, because I can,” said Vossler, pointing to the fact he lives in the country and opts not to have dust control. “It’s your choice to have dust control. You don’t have to have it in front of your house. If you have the dust control, you should have to pay for it because it makes more of a nuisance for graders to grade around it, especially when you have certain roads that have a tremendous amount of dust control on them.”
Reeve Oster pointed to the fact that the costs of dust control keep going up while the fees have remained the same for many years.
“People have to start paying for those extras that they want,” said Oster. “For the county to keep subsidizing to the tune of $500,000—we know it’s not going to get any cheaper, it’s going to get worse.”
Coun. Ernest Mudie concurred with Oster, and suggested instead of a flat fee increase to put the dust control program on a yearly incremental increase.
“I think a lot of these things should have an inflationary amount tied to these things so a lot of this (increase) just happens,” said Mudie. “I would be for this has to go up 3 per cent or something a year then we wouldn’t sit here battling about this. Just put it up $10 or $12 a year and just carry on.”
Lentz moved that the recommendation for a fee increase be “received for information” by council, which means take no action. He asked for a recorded vote. His motion was defeated 5-4. Reeve Oster and Councillors Hamilton, Belyea, Squire and Mudie voted against Lentz’s motion. Deputy Reeve Geigle and Councillors Pahl and Lentz voted for it. Surprisingly Coun. Vossler also voted for Lentz’s motion.
Vossler explained his reasoning a few minutes later when he made a motion to adopt Coun. Mudie’s idea of some kind of incremental increase instead of a flat doubling of the fees.
“I actually quite like Ernest’s notion of putting an increase on a schedule,” confirmed Vossler. He then asked for input from council as to what the proper percentage should be: Either 5 per cent, 7 per cent or 9 per cent a year over the next five years.
The idea of an incremental increase brought in over time, as opposed to one big jump next year, seemed to have broader support on council. Councillors asked staff to bring back the actual numbers for the next public meeting, tabling Vossler’s motion until that could be done.