Nearly two years after Rocky View County (RVC) administration was first directed to explore the possibility of pursuing a specialized municipality status for the region, the Alberta government has denied the County’s formal application.
“We’re disappointed, since being a specialized municipality would have allowed us to be more equitable and adaptable in meeting the needs of residents and businesses, but it is not the only path forward,” said Reeve Dan Henn. “Council will continue to work under the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to maintain and enhance the quality of life of residents and ensure the competitiveness of our business community.”
RVC applied for Specialized Municipality status last year, after having explored the merits of such a classification since March 2019. Currently, the County is classified as a Municipal District, which the MGA defines as being primarily rural in nature.
According to a press release from the County, a specialized municipality designation would have provided RVC easier ways to create service delivery areas supported by varying tax rates. Becoming a Specialized Municipality would also have made the County eligible for more urban grants and funding programs.
RVC’s press release added the County is facing “increasingly diverging demands” for services from the different urban, country residential, rural, commercial and industrial areas of the municipality.
“Watermark requires different servicing than Beiseker,” Henn said. “Having the [specialized municipality] status would have given us the tools for the areas that require a greater level of servicing.”
Across Alberta, specialized municipality status has only ever been granted to six of the province’s 352 municipalities. The Alberta communities with a specialized classification include Lac La Biche County, the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, the Municipality of Jasper, Mackenzie County, Strathcona County and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
As Alberta’s fifth largest economic base, with more than 40,000 residents and one million acres of land that border 13 other municipalities and four First Nations, RVC believed it was in a unique situation that warranted the designation.
According to Henn, Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said the County’s ongoing success – particularly in economic development – was enough evidence it can operate effectively without the need for specialized status.
“I don’t think the minister turned down our request simply because it is RVC,” Henn said. “Communications we got back from McIver – who ultimately made this decision – said perhaps instead of having different styles of municipalities in the province, the MGA may need some tweaks or amendments.”
While a number of surveys and open houses were held to explain the application in 2019 and 2020, the feedback from residents didn’t garner much enthusiasm. In March 2020, a County survey conducted by research consulting firm Stone-Olafson indicated 51 per cent of 401 respondents were in favour of the change compared to the 25 per cent against. Those who were opposed to the application stated it was due to the possibility of increased taxes or lower service levels.
But according to the firm, the possibility of RVC changing its municipal classification was not a “hot-button issue” among many of the respondents.
“Awareness is not very high [and] overall perceptions around the issue, even when they're made aware, are not incredibly intense,” said Stone-Olafson co-founder Matthew Stone at an RVC council meeting last June. “Simply put, people aren't paying a lot of attention to it, but they also don't place a lot of concern around it either – this is not an issue where we see high-intensity agreement or disagreement on any of the points, or even on the question itself.”
Henn said while another application is unlikely in the future, RVC may lobby to have amendments made to the MGA.
With files from Scott Strasser/Rocky View Weekly