By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
A decision by Cypress County councillors to give a $200,000 grant to the City of Medicine Hat’s parks and recreation department might mean a new era of how the two jurisdictions interact.
Or it might not.
Regardless, senior officials from both local governments describe the 2017 budget item as a conversation starter. Mayor Ted Clugston has often complained that residents from outside city limits access tax-supported facilities without paying local taxes. This week he said Cypress County was a good partner that supports Canalta Centre construction, as well as a new partnership with the district food bank.
“It’s good news and it’s a start,” said Clugston of the grant, which was first discussed in early November during talks between senior city and county administrators
“We asked for more to be honest, but we’ll accept the $200,000 … We’re very happy with it.”
The money will have to be formally accepted by Medicine Hat city council, likely in the new year, but elected officials in the county approved the terms Nov. 22.
At that time, councillors voted to offer the same funding to the city as they do to Redcliff as a nod to county residents accessing the town’s rink and other facilities and programs.
That per-capita grant pays $40 for each of the estimated 5,000 county residents who live in nearby farms and acreages, as well as in the hamlets of Dunmore and Desert Blume.
County councillor LeRay Pahl, who sits on the Redcliff Recreation Board, said the new grant moves the local relationship ahead of a push by the provincial government for greater regional co-operation.
“We’ve discussed it for a number of years,” said Pahl, who cited this summer’s consultation meetings on changes to the Municipal Government Act.
That document will likely be amended to include incentives and some regulation on cost sharing between regional partners, according to government statements on the issue.
“They want to see better (intermunicipal) agreement and some cost sharing,” said Pahl. “Council thought we should be proactive rather than reactive, so we got on board.
“We thought we’d do it before the province came down saying ‘you will do it.’”
It’s been a traditionally touchy subject, with rural politicians often saying they provide services to their own residents, and rural residents saying they chose to live outside the city to avoid municipal taxes that are higher than county taxes. The city and county have also sat down to discuss road improvement costs, though apparently without agreement. There is some dispute about who would benefit most, and therefore who should pay for upgrades on the city-owned South Boundary Road as well as county-owned routes to the city’s landfill.
Medicine Hat public services committee chair Coun. Julie Friesen said the city and county have always enjoyed a good relationship and she’s pleased it is evolving.
“Their citizens access our services, and they know that, and are willing to work it out,” said Friesen. “They’ve been wonderful partners over the years.”
The county contributed $700,000 toward construction costs at the Canalta Centre, answering a call by city politicians to regional partners saying the facility would benefit everyone in the region.
In 2004, a $250,000 county donation went towards Esplanade construction. This month the two sides as well as Redcliff agreed to study the benefits of co-ordinating landfill operations between the city dump and the joint town and county facility.