Council ponders waiving of church utility bill

Written by Stu Salkeld

Big Valley village council is pondering whether to continue waiving utility bills for the only registered church in the community. The topic was discussed at the Dec. 8 regular meeting of council.

Councillors read a report from Village Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Elaine Macdonald noting that in 2013 the council of the time decided to waive utility billing for the Big Valley Evangelical Free Church; she wanted to know if councillors wished to continue that arrangement.

Mayor Dan Houle stated he was in favour of waiving the utility bills as they were such a small amount and the church was only used once a week. It was noted at the meeting the church’s municipal utility bill was roughly $40 a month.

Coun. Amber Hoogenberg asked how many other churches get this benefit from the village, to which the CAO responded only this one, as to the best of her knowledge this was the only registered church located in Big Valley.

Coun. Clark German asked if the decision was made prior to metering and he was told it was “just after.”
Councillors discussed whether the church pays a garbage pick-up fee but Macdonald noted technically Big Valley doesn’t have a garbage pick-up fee, but rather a fee charged to pay for a debenture linked to the landfill.

German agreed with Houle that the dollar value is small but that there was a principle involved as well and that if council decided to continue waiving the utility bills the move should be considered a donation to the church.

Houle responded Big Valley has about $1,200 per month in water discrepancies, including water leaks, and he didn’t see the tiny cost of the church’s utilities as a problem.

Coun. Hoogenberg asked if any other communities waive church utilities, to which the CAO answered no, not to her knowledge but she conceded she hadn’t researched that. She pointed out though that under legislation the church doesn’t pay property taxes.

Councillors unanimously instructed the CAO to look into whether other communities waive utility bills for churches and report back at a future meeting.

Strategic plan

Councillors returned to the discussion surrounding the village’s strategic plan, a document which usually lays out a municipalities future plans and how taxes are being spent to achieve it.

The strategic plan was mentioned at a past meeting by Coun. German, and it was tabled so that all councillors could discuss it. Coun. Hoogenberg was absent from the previous meeting.

Hoogenberg noted she’d reviewed the village’s strategic plan and she felt that it’s still relevant.

German agreed, adding most of the plan still stands as valid but he would like to see the plan talked about more often and see village decisions refer back to the document.

Macdonald noted that she had added a line to all council meeting agenda items indicating how the item in question relates to the strategic plan.

German asked if the strategic plan needs to be reviewed, and the CAO suggested that if all councillors were in agreement that the strategic plan is still relevant, then it could be marked as “reviewed” in 2022 with the intention to review it again regularly in the future. German answered he felt a review every two years would be appropriate.

Councillors unanimously agreed to mark the strategic plan as reviewed in 2022 with plans to review it again in 2024.

Tax request

Councillors unanimously approved removing a penalty applied to a tax roll after the CAO stated a clerical error had occurred in the village office.

Macdonald told councillors it was a “no brainer” to cancel the erroneous penalty, but according to the Municipal Government Act it could only be done by councillors at their meeting.

Stu Salkeld
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.