By Tim Kalinowski
South Boundary Road near Desert Blume has become the latest bone of contention between the City of Medicine Hat and Cypress County after city councillors, including Mayor Ted Clugston, openly called for the county to bear co-responsibility for the costs of fixing that stretch near the hamlet at last Monday’s city council meeting. According to Collin Gallant of the Medicine Hat News, Mayor Ted Clugston aimed criticisms at both the Town of Redcliff and Cypress County for not paying their fair share of maintenance costs on the West Boundary and South Boundary Roads respectively, despite those municipalities being some of the main users of those roads.
“I’m asking staff that every time that we’re fixing someone else’s road, that we ask them to cost share… The city and the county realize that that (Desert Blume) road needs to be upgraded,” said Clugston, adding he was optimistic talks could proceed with the county soon.
Apparently Cypress County councillors didn’t get that memo, despite Coun. Richard Oster’s attempts to push it onto council’s radar at last Tuesday’s meeting.
“The Mayor of Medicine Hat mentioned it to me a few times, because he knows it is within my (representation) area,” explained Oster. “They get a lot of phone calls from people out there in Desert Blume saying: When are they going to fix the roads? What (Clugston) says, is really Desert Blume is not our area, they are not part of the city. What he did say was he understands it is an issue because it is their road, and that they would be willing to work with us on this. Perhaps in a 50/50 sharing arrangement.”
Oster said he had also been in touch with the Desert Blume Community Association regarding this issue, and the members hoped for the county’s quick agreement to some kind of arrangement with the city to help fix the stretch of South Boundary Road running outside their hamlet.
“The ratepayers there are part of Cypress County and they have a concern,” said Oster. “It gets any worse it’s going to be a safety issue. I realize it is not our safety issue, but I think there is something to be said about being good neighbours.”
Coun. Garry Lentz was not enamoured of Oster’s generous proposal.
“We pave the Black and White Trail, Range Road 55, Range Road 60, Range Road 61 to bring all of our people who go into the city to purchase things and shop and so on. And to work there,” said Lentz. “The South Boundary Road is not ours. It is the cities. You know, don’t they appreciate our business more than that to expect us to pay for upgrading their road? My question is: Why would we? And, as I was told at one meeting before, we chose to live out there in the country. I am totally opposed to putting anything into that.”
He went on to point out the dump road near Veinerville is mostly used by city residents, but the county has to pay for it out of their own maintenance funds.
“If we want to contribute money to the city let’s look at the dump road. It’s a county road that is used more by them than our county residents,” said Lentz.
Oster replied he felt county residents get far more benefit out the South Boundary Road than the dump road so there really was no comparison.
“If you were sitting on the city side of it you’d say: Why would I fix (South Boundary)? I don’t get any taxes (from Desert Blume). I don’t get anything out of it other than those people do come in and use our facilities, they are purchasers of our products, etc., etc. But other than that we get nothing out of it. This has to be a cost-sharing thing,” he insisted.
Coun. Dan Hamilton disagreed with Oster’s statement.
“You are right on one thing: They might not be collecting taxes there. But there are some business owners that live out there in Desert Blume, and they are paying taxes in town. So they are getting something. What it comes down to is we have two roads there we’ve got to look at (South Boundary and the dump road). Why don’t we use this a bargaining tool and make something work on both roads? Instead of just looking at one at a time.”
Coun. Dustin Vossler concurred with Hamilton.
“Here’s where I stand. I would absolutely be more than happy to do this road for them as long as they come through on the dump road. Tit for tat. That’s the way it works.”
Both Coun. Mudie and Coun. Lentz spoke in favour Vossler’s proposal. Coun. Vossler then made a motion for staff to explore the cost of doing both roads.
Coun. Oster tried one last time to persuade council to allow county staff to open a conversation with city staff about the issue to advance the negotiating process along more quickly for his Desert Blume residents, but his idea was shot down by a majority of councillors, who refused to give permission for such negotiations. In the end, Oster conceded getting a costing was a step in the right direction, but was disappointed council would not agree to talk directly with the city.
“I know my phone will be ringing,” said Oster, “but I know where to send the calls. The reeve’s going to get them, and the deputy reeve and, at the (staff) end, Municipal Works. I’ve got those calls already, and I will be passing them on to you guys.”