Flagstaff County and the eight towns and villages within it are considering the formation of a single regional governance model.
The area southeast of Edmonton has a dwindling population of about 8,000 people. If a proposal proceeds, Flagstaff County, the towns of Daysland, Hardisty, Killam and Sedgewick and the villages of Forestburg, Heisler, Alliance and Lougheed would dissolve their municipal entities and elect representatives in October 2017 to govern a single new municipality.
“Right now the status quo isn’t an option,” said Bob Coutts, who is deputy mayor of Forestburg and chair of the Flagstaff Intermunicipal Partnership (FIP).
“The government is suggesting that that’s not an option. They’re not outright saying it, but through our discussions,” Coutts said change appears necessary.
Within the past year, two former villages in the region, Strome and Galahad, reverted to hamlet status, and Heisler is pondering the same move, said Coutts.
Forming one municipality would allow communities to more easily share resources and reduce administration costs.
“We’re trying to have a made-in-Flagstaff solution,” said Coutts.
There are examples in other provinces of forced municipal amalgamations, but studies done by a consulting group hired by FIP show those haven’t been well received.
There are similar municipal models in Alberta to the one Flagstaff is considering: Wood Buffalo encompasses Fort McMurray. The town and county of Lac la Biche operate as one, and so do the five communities of Crowsnest Pass.
A number of open houses have been held in the Flagstaff County region to explain the proposal.
“I’ve been amazed at the support that there’s been for this and really no negative,” said Coutts.
“They understand the challenges that we have and they are thinking ‘yeah, this might be a good idea’.”
FIP has been in existence since 2003, and the various municipalities have co-operated already on various services and activities, Coutts said.
However, recent indications from the provincial government have prompted it to concentrate on amalgamation.
Coutts said it is a bold step but one that might allow the region to grow and attract more people and businesses.
A sub-committee has been formed with members from each municipality in the region to develop a potential governance model for the new entity, including such things as how many elected officials would be required. Taxation rates, service levels and the merging of various bylaws could take up to three years to finalize, if and when a new entity is created.
Coutts said the plan is to have a structure in place for October 2017 so a new council could be elected.
Gail Watt, mayor of Daysland, said in a recent news release that “the goal is to ensure we can maintain or increase service levels for all citizens at a cost they are willing to pay.”
Coutts added in an interview that people generally demand a higher level of services than they might have in the past, and although a survey done in the region shows high levels of satisfaction with recreation facilities and cultural services, there were lower ratings for protective services, public works and community programming.
“People take pride in their community and through this whole process … we want to ensure that each community’s identity is embraced and enhanced,” said Coutts.
“(Regionalization) is not to be confused with centralization. We don’t want to try and centralize everything. That is not the goal.”
More open houses are planned to gather more input from regional residents, said Coutts.