Alix councillors Jody Widmann and Gordon Christensen listen to Acting CAO Tanya Meston as villagers wait for their opportunity to address council over several concerns they have. ECA Review/L. Joy
An Alix resident speaking to council against rising taxes and utility rates was applauded by about 15 people packed into the tiny village office.
Vicki Solterman told council, at its regular meeting March 16, that Alix collected more than $1.5 million in taxes – the highest amount of taxes collected of all the 91 villages in Alberta except Alberta Beach.
“Alix also collected more (taxes) than 32 towns in Alberta,” she added.
And if the village only collected half the tax that it currently does, it’s still more taxes collected by a village than 82 per cent of the villages in the province.
Solterman shared information from Municipal Affairs and other villages in Alberta of similar size to Alix.
“Besides collecting the most taxes of similar sized communities, the Village of Alix also collects the most in franchise fees.”
She said the Village of Alix spent more than $1.88 million on salaries and contracted services in 2014.
“That was $600,047 more than the next highest in the comparison group. That does not include the cost of living increase for 2015, or the cost of living increase in the 2016 interim budget.”
Alix spending on parks and recreation high, says resident.
She said Alix spent $817,876 on parks and recreation, adding that the next highest recreation expenditure by a village was Mannville and they manage a golf course.
“Even with the golf course expenses, Mannville’s recreation losses before amortization were $58,238. Alix’s losses on recreation were $475,758.”
She suggested the village follow Lacombe County’s lead and consider capping recreational spending.
Solterman said she is bringing this information to council now before they complete their 2016 budget deliberations.
“The Village of Alix does not have a revenue problem as much as it has a spending problem,” said Solterman.
She suggested the village put away some of the taxes collected from the malting plant into reserves for future infrastructure upgrades, or offset what she called “our extremely high water, sewer and garbage bills.
“Better yet, council could cut taxes to make Alix more inviting to newcomers, which brings me to the solutions for stagnant growth.”
She pointed out that nearby communities, such as Bashaw, Clive, Delburne, Donalda, Lacombe and Stettler have experienced growth but Alix’s growth is stagnant.
“There are solutions to stagnant growth and high taxes. You just need the courage to make good choices and in this tough time in Alberta, the residents and businesses of Alix would appreciate a reduction in taxes.”
Solterman said the village should promote Moonwalkers as a business incubator as it was originally intended, adding that it loses money every year. She also suggested council ask village residents for suggestions.
More residents voice concerns
Other Alix residents voiced their opinions to council on issues ranging from the village’s deficit, transparency of council and future plans for Moonwalkers, to how they feel council doesn’t treat them well when they attend meetings.
“After hearing and reading in the papers about the deficit, we feel it is time to have a public meeting to discuss that with taxpayers,” said Chris Schultz.
“We attended the council meeting on March 2. We were disappointed that there was no discussion on most of the agenda. We attend these meetings to learn what is going on and we learn nothing. Where is the transparency of the councilors? How can you vote on this agenda with no discussion? Do you have a special meeting before council meeting to discuss this so the public doesn’t hear?” asked Schultz.
To that Deputy Mayor Curt Peterson, acting on behalf of the absent Mayor Arlene Nelson, assured residents that council doesn’t hold any special meetings prior to council and discusses issues in the open meetings.
Schultz also told council that previous councils appreciated members of the public attending council proceedings.
“We felt very unwanted in this (March 2) meeting and would like to know why they treat the public this way?”
He added that councillors speak too softly and suggested they get microphones so the public can hear their comments.
“It’s rude when you ignore taxpayers,” said Schultz.
Another contentious issue, said Schultz, is the former Chief Administrative Officer doing the village’s accounting and books from Mexico.
“Where is the privacy and safety of all of our properties in Alix?” asked Schultz.
Acting Chief Administrative officer (CAO) Tanya Meston said former CAO Bonnie Cretzman has been contracted on a temporary basis by the Village of Alix to complete two tasks, completing the budget process for 2016 and also completing the year-end process for 2015.
“We are confident that these processes are being completed in a professional manner and everything is very secure,” said Meston. “Research and great consideration was done before entering into a contract as it would be done before entering into any contract.”
Meston added that the village is in the process of hiring a permanent CAO.
Close Moonwalkers’ to stop rising taxes, says resident
Moonwalkers’ continuing deficit is also a concern.
“How was this all started from beginning to now? What is the future plan of Moonwalkers?” asked Schultz. “As a taxpayer we are not happy to support a business that has an enormous deficit, which is going to continue to have a deficit in future years.
“Our suggestion to you is to close the doors to Moonwalkers,” said Schultz, adding that the entire building should be empty.
“We’re not prepared to continue to pay good money for a ridiculous decision by council,” said Schultz.
Other residents Gina Whittemore and Tina Peacock came to the council meeting for the first time.
“I came to see how much the taxes are,” said Whitemore. “It’s getting a little bit ridiculous compared to other communities.”
Peacock said she wants to see “full disclosure on Moonwalkers’” finances.
Malonie Grimard asked council why didn’t they list the campground contract on the March 2 agenda. She said she felt misled by the agenda because it wasn’t listed but council ended up voting on the campground contract.
Acting CAO Tanya Meston said it was discussed as an in-camera item – where the public isn’t allowed to attend – and listed under the heading of “personnel.”
She said after council discussed the issue in-camera they came out of camera and voted on awarding the campground contract.
Unscheduled 2016 budget meeting
Grimard said she was disappointed the village held an unscheduled budget meeting March 11.
Acting CAO Tanya Meston said council did have a draft budget meeting.
“We did advertise on our website, on our big sign at the end of Main Street and on the door of the Village Office,” she said.
“Council wanted to have this meeting but because of date restrictions and prior commitments they had to schedule it outside of a regularly scheduled council meeting.”
The media wasn’t advised.
Petition to Municipal Affairs
Residents attending the village meeting have started a petition to take to the Minister of Alberta Municipal Affairs. The petition asks Municipal Affairs to launch an inquiry into the village and states in part, “We the taxpayers feel that the (alleged) mismanagement of the municipalities resources and the use of taxpayers monies to purchase non-profitable business and to loan monies to select business, has resulted in an unfair tax rate to the taxpayers, an unfair competition of businesses, and an increased tax burden on taxpayers for years to come.”