After a distinct lack of discussion, or barely the mention, Mayor Rick Bonnett has spoken up regarding the town’s battle with the province over funding.
Council received a letter Jan. 10 stating the province would be holding back all grants from the town unless the motion made last November to withhold the education portion of property taxes starting in 2019 was rescinded. The letter also noted further action might be taken by the province if the first payment, due at the end of March, isn’t made.
No one on council commented on the letter at its Jan. 22 meeting, but when contacted, an emailed statement was made available Jan. 25 to the Ponoka News.
“Council is very disappointed with the provincial government’s response in the letter from Ministers (Municipal Affairs Shaye) Anderson (Municipal Affairs), (Education minister David) Eggen and (Infrastructure minister Sandra) Jansen that was included in the council package this week,” the statement explained.
“The Mayor and members of council are exploring all options on how to best move forward on this matter right now.”
The statement added that Bonnett plans to consult and explore options with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association before moving forward with any decisions.
“The mayor will also continue consulting with other municipal partners across the province who are expressing support on this matter,” the email said.
Bonnett noted in the email that the province signed the cost-sharing infrastructure deal that means it must fund one-third of a project’s cost that are approved under the program, “including Ponoka’s – a fieldhouse for which our community has been waiting for a very long time.”
He added that all of council are frustrated the province changed the rules late last year, using Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) as its share rather than providing new grant money.
“Smaller municipalities like Ponoka rely on MSI grant funding to maintain essential infrastructure like roads, water and sewer infrastructure,” the statement said.
Bonnett also noted he plans to address the issue during the upcoming provincial election, focusing his efforts on lobbying candidates for change to the way the government thinks regarding payments under the program.
“The provincial government is giving grant funding for infrastructure-related projects to the big cities – Edmonton and Calgary – without asking them to use their MSI money, but the provincial government isn’t treating smaller municipalities the same way,” the statement outlines.
“Ponoka and other smaller municipalities just want to be treated fairly.”