On Tuesday, August 19, Leduc County invited residents to Sunnybrook Hall to hear the County make its case for opposing the proposed annexation by Edmonton and receive feedback from County residents. Leduc County Mayor John Whaley wants to see collaborative efforts continue rather than resorting to annexation.
Leduc County’s position is for collaboration because the regional trend is towards collaboration.
The County insists the proposed annexation does not align with the Government of Alberta’s regional collaboration agenda and is inconsistent with the objective of the Capital Region Growth Plan.
Leduc County believes regional collaboration is the ideal solution to address growth needs in the capital region, not annexation. According to the County, collaboration is the only path to a strong capital region, anchored by a strong centre in the City of Edmonton. "There are workable alternatives to annexation such as working together as a region to address per-capita funding inequities; ensuring responsible development of agricultural and industrial lands; and ensuring the Edmonton International Airport remains a key regional asset."
How did we come to annexation?
On April 11, 2012, Leduc County and the City of Edmonton signed a letter of intent, outlining a collaborative process the two municipalities would engage in to coordinate growth. The letter charted the intention to work together for one year and develop a coordinated plan for growth.
On March 5, 2013, less than eleven months into the process, the City of Edmonton’s sent Leduc County a formal notice detailing intention to extend its southern boundary at 41 Ave SW along both sides of Highway 2, thereby annexing roughly 38,000 acres of County land.
Of those 38,000 acres, approximately 29,000 acres on the west side of Highway 2. This includes the airport and surrounding lands to the north and running directly west of the airport, coming within 1.5 to 2 miles east of Devon.
The remaining 9,000 acres to the east of Highway 2 includes the Nisku Industrial Business Park. The area does not include the Leduc County Nisku Industrial Area.
If you look at the proposed annexation map of the east side annexation, you will see the boundary line takes a little jog to capture the relatively new East Nisku Reservoir. Leduc County has long term development plans for the area serviced by that water reservoir. What impact might the loss of that reservoir have on future east County development…for the tax base potential? What about the loss of agricultural land to residential or industrial/commercial development? These are questions ratepayers are asking.
Not only is the proposed annexation area more than four times the size of the City of Leduc, as mentioned in the presentation, but the City of Edmonton Proper is already larger than the third largest city in the US. Here are the supporting stats from the City of Chicago.org and Edmonton Tourism websites:
Chicago City proper: 234 sq. miles/606 sq. km with a population of 2,695,598.
Edmonton City proper: 264.24 sq. miles/684 sq. km with a population of only 812,201.
Many County residents wonder why Edmonton doesn’t develop its existing land base before annexing more land from surrounding municipalities.
New Sarepta area resident Roy Eckert questions Edmonton’s intentions. He understands the challenges in finding a way to accommodate both Edmonton and Leduc County needs, “But to me, the volume of land they’re looking at is ridiculous. To what end?” He wonders if Edmonton knows something others don’t. Could this be a strategic move to seize “huge revenue” that may be coming, unforeseen by others? Speculating about the future Port of Alberta or a future rail connection, he asks, “Do they see billions, not just millions coming?”
One attendee told of a community in BC that was successful in stopping urban sprawl from a nearby city hoping for annexation–the neighboring city was forced to develop vertically instead.
Edmonton on the annexation: (from the City of Edmonton website):
“Edmonton is the most logical municipality to manage the growth in the areas south of the city boundary and east and west of the QEII corridor. “The City of Edmonton is the employment, cultural, and social hub of the entire Capital Region. A strong, sustainable central city is vital to ensuring the entire region can compete in the global market, and continue to attract investment, business and jobs.
“Our region’s strong growth is something that needs to be managed carefully to ensure our future resilience.
“The Edmonton International Airport is a key regional asset and crucial to the long term viability of the City of Edmonton.
“Of all the municipalities in the region, Edmonton is in the best position to develop the business spinoffs surrounding the airport and to add the momentum of growth that the airport has experienced in the past several years.
“By including the Edmonton International Airport in the annexation, Edmonton will be able to seamlessly integrate into the airport lands the infrastructure and services (such as arterial roads, light rail and drainage) for future development surrounding the airport.
“With these extensions of the city’s boundary, Edmonton helps manage growth in a way that avoids patchwork infrastructure, facilitates growth to an urban standard, and secures a commercial tax base to help pay for the benefits the city provides to the entire region.
“The City of Edmonton is well equipped to accommodate future development pressures in this area and achieve the Capital Region Growth Plan’s core principles and targets.
“Edmonton needs to extend its boundary on the south side so that it can have an appropriate long term supply of developable land to meet both future residential and industrial/commercial needs.”
Fiscal Impact on County residents
The County crunched some numbers and concluded that if the annexation of 38,000 acres is approved, there would be a 10% tax increase for all residents. Those residents living within the proposed annexation area would see a 62% tax hike. Businesses and industry would see their taxes double in the proposed annexation area. As for Gross Municipal Tax Revenue, Leduc County would sustain about a $6.6 million loss (or an 18% loss compared to a 1% gain for Edmonton). Total assessment would be an estimated at $944 million loss (or a 16% loss compared to Edmonton’s 1% gain).
$ Impact on non-residents. A 17% reduction in tax base would jeopardize Leduc County’s existing services to residents and neighbours.
However, Leduc County admits these figures do not take into consideration any possible tax protection plan which might be implemented by Edmonton. The figures are based on the 2012 municipal and tax assessment.
According to Leduc County, the City of Edmonton suggests that a funding inequity problem exists between rural and urban municipalities in Alberta. Leduc County counters that it has a vision for the proposed annexation area and has invested tax dollars to develop that vision. The way to solve this is, says Leduc County, through collaboration, not annexation.
Who decides and when? The annexation process can take from two to five years. It is currently in the very early stages. The final decision will come through a Municipal Government Board recommendation and the Government of Alberta will make the final decision.
What can a County resident do? The County suggests the following: contacting your local Leduc County councillor. Send your thoughts directly to Leduc County firstname.lastname@example.org or write: Suite 101, 1101-5 Street Nisku, Alberta T9E 2X3. Write your provincial MLA. Write a letter to the editor.
Some offered solutions like: "Let's take our tractors and combines out and block the highway into Edmonton" and "Maybe we should boycott!" Were they tongue-in-cheek remarks or were they intended to be taken seriously? It was difficult to decide. The mayor listened politely, and then restated his conviction that collaboration is the best answer, “We’re committed to working through a process and securing the best results for the region and for the ratepayers of Leduc County.”