Kneehill County council heard a sobering report about the effect shallow gas changes from the provincial government will have on the municipality. The report was submitted at the Mar. 10 regular meeting of council.
Bill McKennan, Director of Corporate Services gave council a report on the effects of provincial budget and policy changes on Kneehill County.
“In addition to the 2019 and 2020 Provincial Budgets there are numerous policy changes that have been implemented outside of the budget process at the provincial level,” stated McKennan in his memo.
“Some of these are minor financial/service implications on the county, however the policy changes at the provincial level regarding shallow gas producers and assessment valuations will have a major impact on the County.”
McKennan explained, “During 2019 the province introduced a program that provided industrial property tax relief to shallow gas producers and protected municipalities from lost revenue.
“Property tax on shallow gas wells and pipelines was reduced by 35 per cent.” He noted the reduction will remain the same for 2020.
“The assessment reduction for Kneehill County totals $137,211,640 which equals a 13.2 per cent reduction in our overall linear assessment compared to 2019. This translates into a budget revenue reduction of $1,925,000.”
Including other grant reductions and increased expenses, including policing, McKennan said Kneehill County is facing a large budget issue.
“This known reduction of $2,989,178 equates to an approximate 11 per cent reduction of the county’s overall revenues,” he stated in his report.
During discussion, McKennan said, “It’s a significant hit for the county… So, based on that, it’s not a rosy picture.”
Deputy Reeve Faye McGhee asked how these changes are being communicated to ratepayers.
McKennan said the county newsletter will explain the situation. Councillors accepted his presentation for information.
Later in the meeting, Reeve Wittstock noted that the County of Kneehill is currently owed $6.36 million in unpaid taxes by oil and gas companies.
Manager of Protective Services Deb Grosfield and Rural Fire Chief Dan Marsellus presented to council about the department’s ageing communication system, specifically, the radios in use.
Marsellus stated he’s been researching the issue since Aug. of 2019 and issued a request for proposals that month.
The fire chief noted his department has been involved in some large emergencies where the radio system had difficulty, including a recent fire and a recent explosion, where the radio system didn’t function properly.
“Many incident scenes have experienced no radio contact with line of sight between all responders involved,” stated the agenda memo.
Marsellus said the current radio system is close to the end of its life cycle and he feels moving to a digital system is the way forward.
However, he noted that if a new system is considered, it should easily mesh with surrounding departments.
“The province has moved RCMP, EMS and STARS over to the Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System (AFRRCS) making coordination of these resources difficult without a radio patch between the provincial and county radio systems through dispatch,” stated the agenda memo.
Marsellus also noted that his fire department currently enjoys the use of a tower belonging to the RCMP, but the RCMP apparently is taking the tower down within a couple of years, further complicating the matter.
Councillors agreed to let staff issue a request for proposals, inclusion pricing options, and report back at a future meeting.
Council approved the list of 2020 fire guardians, and Grosfield noted that councillors themselves are no longer listed as fire guardians.
Fire guardians listed in the memo belonged to the Three Hills, Acme, Carbon, Linden, Torrington and Trochu fire departments, plus certain Kneehill County staff, including Chief Marsellus.
The agenda memo noted, “The Forest and Prairie Protection Act requires that each year the council of a municipal district shall appoint, for a term not exceeding one year with effect from the beginning of April, a sufficient number of fire guardians to enforce the Act within the boundaries of the municipal district.”
Reeve Jerry Wittstock said he was pleased with that decision. “I do appreciate being taken off the list,” said Wittstock.
Councillors approved a development permit for a micro cannabis cultivation facility on a portion of SE 18-30-24 W4.
The agenda item was presented by Deanna Keiver, Planning and Development officer and the application came from Kent and Kassandra O’Brien.
It was stated in the agenda memo, “The applicants wish to sell dried cannabis to the Alberta Gaming & Liquor Control Board and produce and sell clones and feminized seeds to other licensed cultivators. A Micro Cultivation License is limited to 200m2 (2152ft2).”
It was stated that two buildings on the site will be connected and a new building will be added. Coun. Ken King asked about air filters that would control problems such as odours.
He stated he’d like to see air filter requirements in the development permit beefed up.
Councillors approved the amended development plan.
Victim services requested Councillors declined to fund a request from Three Hills Victim Services for $500 to assist in the costs associated with hosting the annual “Community Conversations Around Elder Abuse” session.
It was noted this request had been tabled from a previous meeting so the victim services financial situation could be investigated, noted CAO Mike Haugen.
Coun. Wade Christie stated the victim services unit appears to be “well funded,” and said they should be using their own funds for education projects.
Councillors decided to receive the request for information only.
CA Haugen presented a request from the Town of Trochu for financial support in the upgrading of their lagoon.
“The County has previously provided one-time funding for infrastructure projects within the towns and villages,” stated Haugen’s report to council.
“This amount has historically been $200,000 and has been utilized by the Village of Linden and the Village of Carbon.”
Stu Salkeld, LJI reporter