Urban, rural municipalities differ on changes to governance act

Rural Albertans need to speak out in support of their rural governments in upcoming Municipal Government Act sessions, said the head of the rural municipalities group.


Bob Barss said rural municipalities are looking for different things in a new Municipal Government Act than urban municipalities.


Urban governments would like to make it easier to absorb land from neighbouring rural municipalities and change the rules on who gets the taxes from businesses in rural areas.


If urban municipalities get their way and funding is allotted by population, urban regions will get the money from industry and rural will get the headache, he said.


“This is huge. People should get involved so they understand what it all means,” said Barss, president of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.


The provincial government plans to host a series of regional consultation sessions in 11 communities from February to April.


The review will focus on three areas: assessment and taxation, governance and administration and planning and development.


Barss said they believe the MGA, the act that governs municipalities, is working and they don’t want the province to make major changes, especially ones that will affect taxes and planning in rural areas.


If changes are made, they hope to have a more streamlined annexation process instead of the adversarial and costly existing process that pits municipalities against one another. A clearer process would allow for better collaboration, he said.


Rural municipalities also want better guidelines for when a hamlet is dissolved into a municipality. The absorbing municipality is often left with a massive bill for upgrading the deteriorating services.


Urban municipalities have their eyes on the tax base from counties, especially those surrounding urban centres, he said.


Barss said rural municipalities also hope to gain more autonomy from the provincial government. 


“We want municipalities to be another level of government, not a creature of the province.”