page contents Regional Partnerships and Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks (ICFs) in Grande Prairie by Dylan Bressey, candidate for City Council. Election 2017. page contents

Regional Partnerships (ICFs)

The City’s relationship with neighbouring municipalities plays a huge role in City revenue, policy, and facilities. These relationships are going to change soon due to provincial updates of the Municipal Government Act. Working with the County and other regional municipalities is THE issue our next Council will face. How can Council best navigate these changes?

THE SHORT VERSION

The province is giving the City and County two years to decide how to get better at working together. These negotiations will get complicated, but they are important. Our Council needs to do a good job representing the City. At the same time, negotiations need to be collaborative rather than oppositional. We need people at the negotiating table who are consensus builders. Our focus also needs to be on growing regional opportunities, not just “getting our fair share.” If elected, I can be an important voice in this conversation. I'd love to hear your thoughts on City-County partnerships.

THE LONG VERSION

City/County Differences

It is no secret that taxes are cheaper outside of City limits. This is not unique to Grande Prairie- there is an urban/rural disparity in much of the province.

Everyone has a different opinion on why the City’s taxes are higher than the County’s. Some questions that people ask:

  • Does the City have a spending problem?
  • Is it always more expensive to service an urban area?
  • Is the City paying too much for services that County residents use?
  • Do City policies drive out lucrative business development?

These questions are important and deserve consideration every time Council makes a budget. But they are also very nuanced and open to debate.

There are two main County advantages that often get brought up:

  1. Linear Taxation: The County receives large amounts of taxes from linear properties. These properties include pipelines, well sites, and telecommunications lines. The City does not have much in the way of this type of development.
  2. Policing: The County does not pay for most of its police force. The City pays a huge amount for its RCMP detachment.

I have specific Linear Assessment and RCMP numbers at the end of this post.

With a large income source and no need to pay for most of its policing, the County has a large advantage over the City. This is part of what allows taxes to remain lower in the County. But it isn't the entire story.

The County also has unique and expensive challenges. It has a huge amount of roads which need to receive maintenance, upgrades, and dust control. It has more bridges to maintain than any other municipality in Alberta. And it needs to resource a population spread throughout a large geographic area. When I talk to County residents and businesses, it seems to be meeting these challenges efficiently. When I talk to those who do business in the City and the County, I also hear about superior service being offered in the County. Some of the County's advantages have come from its own good decisions.

The County has advantages over the City. But it also has unique challenges that it is meeting. There are lessons that we can learn from the operations of our municipal neighbour.

Upcoming Provincial Changes

These differences in revenue and expenses are not unique to our region. Cities across Alberta have spent years lobbying the provincial government to fix urban/rural disparities. Partly due to this lobbying, the province is making some changes to the Municipal Government Act.

Beginning sometime in the fall, the province will give municipalities two years to enter Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks (ICFs) with their neighbours. Any municipalities touching each other will need to agree on how to work together on planning, service delivery, and program funding in areas with regional impact. If they cannot come to formal agreements, municipal neighbours will be forced into mediation.

These potential agreements are both the biggest opportunity and the biggest threat that our next Council will need to deal with.

If done well, negotiating agreements will deepen our partnership with the County and other nearby municipalities. Partnership can improve City services: many programs are best delivered when approached regionally. This could also lead to lower taxes: cost sharing of existing programs and facilities will be on the negotiating table.

If negotiations fail, mediation will be messy. It will cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars or more on consultants, lawyers, and arbiters. I also expect that there will be many mediation cases throughout the province, leading to backlogs. This could be a distraction which derails Council and Administration attention for years. Worse, it would likely erode City-Council relationships: they could take years or decades to recover.

Upcoming negotiations with the County need to go well for the prosperity of our region.

THE Issue for Council

Regional partnerships fundamentally affect everything that Council touches. That means that these upcoming changes are THE issue for our next Council to deal with.

  • Do you want lowered taxes? Cost and revenue sharing with other municipalities is our best opportunity to accomplish this.
  • Do you want to see our local economy grow? We can attract and retain investment better when we take a regional approach.
  • Do you want to see crime prevention and social services stepped up? Many issues are brought into town from outside of City limits- we need to work on them with our neighbours.
  • Are you concerned about long-term planning of land use? We can plan better if we can act as partners rather than competition with the County and others.
  • Do you have a recreational or cultural facility you want to see built? It becomes a lot more feasible when City taxpayers are not the only ones financing it.

Upcoming negotiations are so important because they impact everything the City does. So, if negotiating regional agreements is THE issue, how can our next Council best approach this task?

How to Approach Negotiations

Negotiations are going to get complicated. They will cover many complex topics. “Who pays how much for what,” will be the main concern. But predicting other specifics is impossible for now. However, I do have a few principles that our next Council should keep in mind when entering negotiations:

  • Celebrate existing partnerships: We already have areas of partnership with other municipalities. Aquatera, a recent Joint Recreational Master Plan, and talks about industrial development near Grovedale come to mind. There are certainly improvements which could be made in these existing partnerships. But, overall, I think they have been positive for our region. We need to celebrate and build on our successes.
  • Do it right: Hammering out agreements will be incredibly complex and time consuming. But they need to be done right. I get nervous whenever governments spend big bucks on consultants. But this is one area where they are truly needed. We will need experienced advice on how to make partnership work. We will need outside perspectives to make sure decisions are rational and not emotional. And our administration will need to see their available time supplemented. We need to spend the resources necessary to be well prepared for negotiating. It is better to spend some money upfront than to spend even more money on lawyers and mediators if talks fall apart.
  • Focus on the future: Some past decisions and conversations have generated hard feelings when it comes to City-County partnership. However, we need to move forward together rather than dwelling on past conflict.
  • Focus on the region.  Our Council needs to do a good job at standing up for the needs of the City. But that isn’t enough. Council also needs to do a good job at listening to the wants, needs, challenges, and ideas of the County and other municipalities. Our Council then needs to let this feedback shape its positions. There are areas where the City isn’t getting a “fair deal,” and these areas need to be addressed. However, overall, we will be better served by working with others to grow our regional economy rather than fighting over the resources which are currently available.

What I Bring to the Table

These upcoming negotiations are a big reason I chose to run for Council. I see the opportunity and threat they pose. I know they need to go well. And if elected, I know I will bring an important voice to the table. I am well positioned to help because:

  • I have fresh eyes. In the past, regional relationships have not always been positive. This has created negative emotions in many of those involved. We need new people as part of the city's contingent to make sure that the focus is on future partnership rather than past conflict.
  • I am an experienced consensus builder. I’ve delivered organizational and change management consultation to varied organisations. I’ve had training in building dialogue between conflicting parties. My academic work has also been in organizational studies. I have experience and training in getting a group of people to find common ground and start moving forward together.
  • I am a proven collaborator. When our Council sits down with colleagues from other municipalities, a lot of the conversation will hinge on unspoken questions such as “can we trust these people? Can we see ourselves working long term with these people? Are these people going to work with me to make sure my constituents’ interests thrive?” We need to build trust. And this takes effort listening to the hopes, ideas, and concerns of one another. I am showing by my campaign that I am excited and capable of starting this type of conversation.

I hope I get elected so that I can use my time, energy, and experience to help us work with our municipal neighbours in building strong regional partnerships.

What are your thoughts?

I'd love to hear from you. Do you agree or disagree that this is THE issue facing Council? What are some of the challenges you see in City-County relations? Where are we partnering well together? Where do we need to do better? Comment below, give me a call or email, or post this on Facebook and tag me.

-Dylan

 

Some Numbers

Linear Taxes: In 2015, the County received $25,438,187 in linear taxation compared to the City’s $1,839,486. If you unpack the numbers further, 35% of the County’s taxation was on linear properties compared to 2% of the City’s. It is important to note that these numbers include education taxes collected on behalf of the provincial government.

Protective Services: It is difficult to unpack exactly how much more police cost the City than the County. First, both governments have different budget categories. Second, the County pays for extra RCMP officers over and above what the province provides (which is great!). However, the budget numbers make it clear that there is a disparity here even if it is hard to give it an exact number. In 2015, the County spent $2,926,763 on “enforcement services” and $7,178,675 on “fire services.” This made up 13% of its spending. In 2015, the City spent $37,731,819 on “protective services.” This made up 23% of its spending.

Road Costs: In 2017, the City is budgeting $25 million in capital spending for "Engineering," which includes road work and also storm water management and slope repair. The County is planning to spend $34 million on roads and bridges alone. 
 

 

Sources

2015 Financial Statement for the County: http://www.countygp.ab.ca/assets/Departments/Finance~Systems/Docs/2015%20Financial%20Statements.pdf

2015 Financial Statement for the City: http://www.cityofgp.com/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=14610

Municipal Government Act review: http://mgareview.alberta.ca/whats-changing/plan-for-growth/#Intermunicipal_Collaboration_Revised

Regional Recreational Master Plan: http://www.cityofgp.com/index.aspx?page=2642


I'd love to hear your thoughts. You can contact me by clicking here. I'd also encourage you to share your ideas with others. You can do that by joining a GP Round Table discussion online or in person. Details are here.

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