Rocky View County (RVC) council denied a request by Alberta Infrastructure to waive a $1,402,537.50 sewer service connection fee for the future junior-senior high school in Langdon, at their Feb. 8 meeting.
Construction of the school was approved by the County’s municipal planning commission in November of last year, with a condition that they pay RVC wastewater connection fee in accordance with the municipality’s master rates bylaw.
In a letter requesting to waive the sewer service connection fee, Ghassan El Chazli, assistant deputy minister at Alberta Infrastructure, argued that high schools “offer a considerable benefit to local communities, and often represent not only an educational institution but also a community hub. Both the community and RVC will benefit from the construction of this new facility both directly and indirectly.”
El Chazli said the new school facility will offer additional amenities to the community that benefit both the development of the subdivision and the desirability of the neighbourhood. Therefore, he requested that the connection fee be removed.
But in their staff report, RVC administration warned that reducing or waiving the fees would shift infrastructure costs from system users to the County and set a precedent for future applicants. For these reasons, they recommended the connection fees be upheld and ultimately, all council members agreed.
After withdrawing an initial motion to waive the fees, council unanimously voted for the connection fee for the Langdon junior/senior high school to be upheld.
Division 7 Coun. Al Schule, whose division is the home of the future school, said the provincial government needs to come up with a way to make fees equal for public schools across the province.
Division 4 Coun. Samanntha Wright spoke to consistency, and noted a previous request to waive the same fees by Banded Peak School in Bragg Creek was denied.
Kenton Betts from Alberta Infrastructure, the organization in charge of the project, explained that in comparison to any jurisdiction across the province, none impose fees of this dollar value. The highest comparable rate for a similarly sized building is $100,000, he said, adding municipalities will often waive fees or provide financial support to schools as they offer substantial benefits to the community.
According to Betts, the construction budget for the school is approximately $29 million, which means this connection fee makes up six per cent of the entire budget.
Angela Yurkowski, representing RVC’s capital project management, said the County pays levies and connection fees for their own buildings and projects.
Division 5 Coun. Greg Boehlke noted the County has set a precedent by paying fees and levies on its own buildings, and that this is the way RVC collects its fees for their systems.
“If we’re an anomaly in the province, then so be it. We have a debt to repay and a service to provide to our residents and ratepayers and this is how we do it,” Boehlke said.
Wright agreed, saying that waiving the fees to pay for these systems would download the cost onto county taxpayers.
Rocky View Schools (RVS) operates approximately 50 schools and serves roughly 26,000 students between Kindergarten and Grade 12. The proposed junior/senior high school in Langdon will be a public school for students in grades 7 through 12.
The Joint Use Site is classified as a Regional Recreation Facility and has been planned as a joint effort between the County, Area Recreation Board, RVS, and community associations since 2012. With a population north of 5,000 residents, Langdon is currently one of the most populous communities in Alberta to not have its own high school.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, RVC administration pointed out that the $1.4 million connection fee only referred to the amount used by the school and does not include the fees for the portion to be developed by the County.
Jacqueline Targett, representing RVC planning and development services, said the County’s development in Langdon to date includes the Iron Horse Fields baseball diamonds and municipal infrastructure, including a public roadway, parking lot, underground deep utilities, and stormwater infrastructure.
According to RVC administration, connection fees are an important funding source to recover capital borrowing costs incurred when upgrading infrastructure and expanding the utility system.
The new high school would be serviced by the County’s East Rocky View Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) in Langdon and the connection was calculated to add approximately 97.5 cubic metres per day of wastewater to the municipal system, according to a demand estimate by RVS.
To ensure servicing to the high school, the county is commissioning an expansion to the East Rocky View WWTP.
The minimum connection rate for a Langdon Sewer Service connection fee for non-residential developments is $14,385.00 per cubic metre.
At an estimated 97.50 cubic metres per day, the total required connection fee adds up to approximately $1,402,537.50, plus interest.
Under the Municipal Government Act, school developments owned by a school board are exempt from off-site levies, however there is no exemption from charges for a public utility and the corresponding municipal bylaw.
Administration stated that charging the connection fee may impact the feasibility of RVS projects but that these fees provide the County with the financial mechanism to fund infrastructure maintenance and expansion work that benefits the entire service area and recover costs already incurred by the County to expand the system.