The possibility of Rocky View County’s (RVC) changing its municipal classification and becoming a Specialized Municipality is “not a hot-button issue” among many residents, according to the firm responsible for conducting public engagement on the matter.
From March 23 to April 13, RVC undertook a public consultation process to gauge residents’ awareness of and opinions surrounding its potential change in municipal status. The County hired research consulting firm Stone-Olafson to conduct the survey, and co-founders Matthew Stone presented findings to RVC council at a regular meeting June 23.
“Awareness is not very high [and] overall perceptions around the issue, even when they're made aware, are not incredibly intense,” he said. “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.”
Currently, the County is classified as a Municipal District, which the Municipal Government Act defines as being primarily rural in nature. Due to the growth and urbanization of some communities within the county, RVC started to explore the possibility of changing its municipal designation in 2019.
According to Amy Zaluski, RVC’s manager of Intergovernmental Affairs, the benefits of becoming a Specialized Municipality include being able to differentiate between rural and urban areas in order to deliver different levels of taxation and services. Becoming a Specialized Municipality would also make RVC eligible for more urban grants and funding programs.
In his presentation, Stone said only 30 per cent of the 401 RVC residents who responded to the survey said they were either strongly opposed or strongly supportive of the change in municipal classification. Awareness of the County’s intention to change its municipal status was generally low, he added, with only 38 per cent of respondents stating they knew of it before the survey took place.
He added support among respondents was still relatively positive, with 51 per cent stating they were in favour compared to 25 per cent against. Fourteen per cent neither supported nor opposed the change in classification, while 10 per cent said they were undecided.
“It’s not universal – it never will be universal, and no issue is ever going to garner 100 per cent approval – but a majority are in favour of the application,” Stone said.
“Ultimately, their attitudes are starting to indicate there is fairly good alignment with the rationale for the decision in the first place.”
Most of the opposition was related to the possibility of increased taxes or lower service levels, Stone said, adding the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent slump in the oil and gas sector might have contributed to respondents' increased sensitivities towards costs while the survey was conducted.
“Ultimately, the opposition is rooted in, ‘Will my taxes go up?’” he said.
The feedback also indicated support was higher in the northern and north-western parts of the county, including Balzac and Cochrane Lake, while opposition was more noticeable in the east, among respondents who self-identified as living in Langdon, Dalemead or Indus. Springbank also had a high percentage of opposition.
“Support is not going to be universal across the county – we know each community has their own different concerns or opportunities they see in it,” Stone said, adding RVC should implement additional engagement in these communities to learn more about their opposition.
There are currently six Specialized Municipalities in Alberta, including Lac La Biche County, the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, the Municipality of Jasper, Mackenzie County, Strathcona County and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
The matter will return to council in July, when members will vote on whether to proceed with applying for a change in municipal classification through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.