Alix council lowers franchise fees by eight per cent

Alix residents are getting a tax break this coming year after Alix Council made the decision to gradually lower current franchise fees with both ATCO and Fortis in the interest of its taxpayers.

ATCO’s fee was set at 20 per cent and Fortis’ fee was set at 18 per cent in 2018 but will now be reduced by eight per cent and 9.5 per cent respectfully.

Coun. Vicki Soltermann was the driving force behind the change as she feels the fees are still a hidden tax to residents.

Soltermann provided some examples of other municipalities and their fees. “In 2016, out of 90 villages, 10 of them didn’t even charge franchise fees. Sixty of them collected under $50,000 and now there’s 70 villages out of 90 that collects under $50,000. Thirteen of them collected over $50,000 but under $100,000, most of them way under. “Five villages collected over $100,000 but under $115,000. Two villages, guess who, collected over $200,000 in franchise fees.

“If we want businesses to come here, especially ones that use a lot of electricity, we need to lower it,” said Soltermann.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Michelle White provided a sheet of potential rates and ways the village can safely diminish their franchise fees while still having a balanced budget.

Councillors were leery of how much money would be lost because of this change but CAO White assured the panel that they could accept the lowered rates but encouraged a gradual change.

“If there is room for more changes in a future year I will bring that to you for sure but you don’t want to get into a situation where you’ve got nothing and your realize that ‘Oh crap, that was a bad idea’,” said White.

Soltermann moved to lower the ATCO rate to 12 per cent and the Fortis rate to 8.5 per cent for the 2019 year which was unanimously carried.

Fire Services Policy Manual

Lacombe County Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Management, Drayton Bussiere, launched into a delegation about the Lacombe County Fire Services Policy Manual.

A year ago, Lacombe County started a review of what is currently in the policy manuals.

As it stands, each fire service within the county has their own set of rules which are almost identical. These manuals are meant to be updated on an annual basis.

“We now have one that will be the overarching manual county-wide and then, where it’s necessary, we have compartments specific to each service, said Bussiere.

The old manual amounted to 160 pages but has been reduced to 89 pages.

“We are actually leaving some more freedom in terms of development and standard operating guidelines and those things to each individual department as opposed to trying to dictate them through this policy which was never supposed to be its intention,” said Bussiere.

The fire chief was seeking an endorsement of the manual from council.

He went through each section, answering questions from members of council as he went. A highlighted change Bussiere mentioned was how the fire chief is determined.

The process has essentially been reversed where the proposed fire chief will be interviewed by the county and village before the fire department conducts an election.

“The justification for that from our end is really that the district fire chief is essentially accountable to both councils,” said Bussiere. “So what we think we accomplished by switching that process is that we can always ensure that we have the person that’s the most suitable to be in that position.”

The process intends to remove the chance that council could dismiss and not endorse said elected person, saving time and energy from the departments.

Once the decision is made by the review committee, then it would become a recommendation that would go forward to each council within the county for endorsement. If all parties agree to this person, then it would go to the fire department for ratification by the members.

The only problem Alix’s fire chief found was the lack of voice members are given when it comes to choosing their chief.

CAO White suggested a member from the current fire department join the county and village in making the initial decision.

Alix council approved the policy manual as presented but also directed administration to create a draft internal policy specific to Alix for when there is a change in fire chief.

This amendment would allow a member of the department onto the selection committee.

Once it is officially adopted by all seven county councils, it will become the official manual.

More bite into cannabis offence fines

Council was presented both the Cannabis Retail Sales Bylaw and Cannabis Consumption Bylaw to give first reading.

The largest concern was brought up by Coun. Ed Cole regarding the distance a retail store can exist from the school. The bylaw, following provincial legislation, is slated for 100 metres which is equal to one block of distance from the school.

“If you go to the west side of the school and went 100 metres you’re about at the United Church. That’s a little too close so I would say that it should be 1000 metres,” said Cole.

“That would probably be seen as unreasonable and could be challenged by a court,” said CAO White.

“You’d lose a challenge, I’ll bet you any money,” agreed Mayor Rob Fehr.

Coun. Cole dropped the distance down to 500 metres.

Coun. Barb Gilliat mentioned that the properties zoned around the school are also not properly zoned for highway commercial, meaning they couldn’t build or start a shop regardless.

CAO White responded saying that the zoning can be challenged as well.

“If somebody said ‘Hey, I think this here should be C2’, then there is an option for this to then have a discretionary use as cannabis retail sales which is still quite a ways away. I just wanted you to be aware that only because C2 is in those places right now doesn’t mean that that is forever,” said CAO White.

Deputy Mayor Tim Besuijen said he agreed with Cole that the distance is too close but also understood that there could not be a retail store close to it regardless.

Council then settled on 200 metres as it would not likely be challenged as many other communities have adopted the standard 200 metre distance.

Council moved to pass first reading with the amendment to change the distance from the school to be set at 200 metres with a public hearing scheduled.

A speaker from Alberta Health Services gave a 30-minute presentation to give ratepayers an education in the topic before a survey was handed out and the public hearing commenced.

Consumption of cannabis within public places was another hot topic discussed at the council meeting.

Coun. Cole brought up the penalties for doing such an act within the village.

Penalties were set at a $100 fine for the first offence, $200 fine for the second and a $300 fine for the third.

“The penalties are a joke. We need to put some bite into them,” said Cole. “I could probably live with the first offence but I think we need to put a little bite in second and third because that leans into ‘You’re not listening’ territory.

“Leave the first offence at $100 but bump second offence to $500 and third offence to $1,000 so at least it’s got some bite to it.”

Council compromised by moving to change the second offence to $250 and the third offence to $500.

Council then passed first reading of the smoking bylaw to restrict the use of cannabis in public places with the amendment to change the offence fines.

 

Terri Huxley

ECA Review

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