Shane Pospisil from New West Opportunities Inc. NWO met with Forestburg council on Feb 7, 2019, at a regular meeting to present the summary report on feedback that was received from the responses through community and stakeholder consultations.
Flagstaff Intermunicipal Partnership (FIP) engaged New West Opportunities Inc., a consulting firm specialized in working with municipalities on governance issues, to consult with the public and stakeholders to find out the opinions residents have on the feasibility of potentially forming a single-tier government within the Flagstaff region.
This engagement took place from November 2018 to January of this year through 12 community-wide meetings and information booths and nine smaller community resident/seniors meetings across the Flagstaff region.
The initiative to consider the possibility of a single-tier government arose from a need to explore all options of developing sustainability in the future.
Residents were also able to share concerns through an information line which received 198 calls. 1,150 overview and background documents and questionnaires were distributed or downloaded from the MyFlagstaff website.
There were 844 responses to the MyFlagstaff questionnaire, which asked people to share their opinions on the most important issues and challenges facing their household, business and municipal government and on the idea of regional governance.
With about 10 per cent of the regional population responding, it was found that there is not unanimous agreement on how the Flagstaff region could or should be governed at the municipal level.
The results have identified the differing viewpoints ratepayers have on the issue.
A statistically significant regionwide median of about 50 per cent of the respondents approves of moving forward with more detailed consideration of the single-tier governance model.
The disapproval rate is also relatively high at 44-46 per cent, however, does not reflect the majority of respondents.
Between 7-9 per cent of respondents also expressed a conditional component to their response, indicating that they could support the single-tier governance model if a ‘good and fair’ deal was negotiated by on behalf of their municipality.
With the rising cost of living, lack of jobs, high taxes and economic uncertainty, 30-50 per cent of respondents listed personal financial concerns as the most important issue facing their household or business.
Many people responded that they saw challenges facing their communities including poor internet services, lack of economic opportunities and increased cost of services.
However, the most important challenge, with 30-50 per cent of those surveyed, is the declining, ageing population which also contributes to the loss of small farms and lower school enrollment
Twenty to 40 per cent suggested that the biggest areas of opportunity in these communities are in finding ways to attract new and younger residents to the area.
Many believe there is also an opportunity for business development and organic agriculture growth, as well as developing tourism and recreation.
The Regional Governance Project currently remains in the exploratory stage and is focused on listening and learning from the perspectives of those involved.
The aim of this project is to assess and evaluate the information received so that all FIP communities and municipalities will be able to make fully-informed decisions moving forward.
The next phase, if continued, would be non-binding on the participating communities and would take about six to eight months to gather more detailed information.
FIP was established in 2003 to bring communities together to identify opportunities for increased intermunicipal collaboration aimed at providing more effective services and infrastructure across the region.
The nine FIP communities include the Villages of Alliance, Forestburg, Heisler, Lougheed; the Towns of Daysland, Killam, Sedgwick, Hardisty and Flagstaff County.
Since 2015, these communities have been involved in looking at ways to collaborate on sharing services in fair and reasonable ways.
Like many rural areas throughout Canada, our region is facing many uncertainties and challenges, including the ongoing decline of residents and relatively small population of 8,500.
It is noted that Sedgewick is not currently a participating community in the FIP Regional Governance Project initiative.