A past president of Morinville’s chamber of commerce says Morinville and other area towns should merge with Sturgeon County to save money.
Simon Boersma, who was president of the Morinville & District Chamber of Commerce from 2012 to 2017, spoke to Morinville council’s committee of the whole Jan. 21 on why Sturgeon County should form a specialized municipality with Bon Accord, Gibbons, Legal, Morinville and Redwater.
A specialized municipality is a form of governance that allows rural and urban areas to exist under one government, the province reports. There are currently six in Alberta, including Strathcona County and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
In an interview, Boersma said he started thinking about the idea of a county-wide specialized municipality after Coun. Stephen Dafoe asked for a report on the subject in 2016. (Said report, published in October 2016, touched on specialized municipalities but focused mostly on Dafoe’s other question on how becoming a city would affect Morinville.)
Boersma said he and a group of about 30 Morinville and Sturgeon County residents have further discussed the idea over the last year and are now promoting the concept to area governments.
Federal and provincial grants to municipalities are dwindling, and that means municipalities have to put more tax pressure on their residents, Boersma said. Sturgeon County, meanwhile, is thriving, with some $57 million a year in tax revenues expected from the Sturgeon Refinery and Pembina Pipeline plastics plant in the near future.
Boersma likened this region’s situation to that of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which saw towns like Fort McMurray and Anzac thrive once they established a common government with their wealthy rural neighbours.
“The creation of a unified municipality will allow sharing of revenue and expenses,” Boersma told council, and save costs on administration.
Boersma said in an interview that county-area governments currently spent $6 to $10 million a year on administration, and argued this could be greatly reduced with a unified government.
“Do we really need to have 38 mayors and councillors within a region of 38,000 residents?” he asked – St. Albert gets by with one mayor, one CAO and six councillors for about 66,000, he noted.
A county-area municipality would make Bon Accord, Gibbons, Legal, Morinville, Redwater and Sturgeon County far less reliant on residential tax revenue, with Morinville getting 34 per cent of its taxes from homeowners post-merger instead of the 85 per cent it does now, Boersma said. It would also strengthen Sturgeon County’s voice at the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB).
“I believe every community within this region will become stronger,” Boersma said. At the same time, Morinville and other towns would maintain distinct identities, just as Anzac and Fort McMurray have maintained their unique characters.
Boersma said town council should hold a public forum on this issue this fall to get this unification process started before other communities came looking for their share of Sturgeon’s wealth.
“We need to start looking at unification.”
While area governments are very interested in collaborating to reduce costs, Mayor Barry Turner said no one is really talking about creating a unified government right now.
“At this point in time, amalgamation, it's just not on the table, full stop,” he said in council.
In an interview, Turner said he saw rising costs as a regional issue that covered the entire Edmonton region, not just Sturgeon, and that area governments are working to share resources to address costs at that level. There are levels of unification, and full regional governance isn’t always the best answer.
“What we’re doing is moving ahead in areas that make sense for all of us,” Turner said, which at this point include transit, servicing, agriculture and shared investment.
Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw declined to comment on Boersma’s proposal as she had yet to hear his presentation. Boersma was set to speak to county council on this issue Jan. 28 after this story was published.