The County of Leduc is still waiting for the City of Edmonton to show how their annexation request will benefit anybody.
Speaking to around 100 people at the Leduc County Business Luncheon Nov. 26, Leduc County Mayor John Whaley said in the two years since the City of Edmonton presented the County with its Intent to Annex 38,799 acres of property north of Beaumont and west of Hwy. 2 to just east of the Town of Devon, including the Edmonton International Airport, the city has not presented them with any papers, reports, studies or evidence showing annexation is justified.
“It’s a damn frustrating process that’s going to cost a lot of time and money before we reach the end.”
County lawyer Barry Sjoile, of Brownlee LLP, facilitated the meeting saying the City of Edmonton has a duty to engage residents and businesses and they have failed to do that.
“It’s important you understand everyone is going to be impacted…and not necessarily positively. It is going to impact you.”
Currently, Edmonton’s non-residential taxes are 107 per cent higher than Leduc County’s and residential taxes on acreages are 70 per cent higher. Farm properties of 160 acres with a residence are 243 per cent higher, although vacant farmland is 53 per cent lower. While the City has said there would be some form of tax protection plan, Sjoile said they have not detailed what it would be or how long it would be in effect.
“And it all becomes irrelevant if you do anything with your property anyway.”
Edmonton’s proposed annexation is four times the City of Leduc, and is currently the largest annexation in Alberta and includes property the Town of Beaumont is asking to annex. “
All of this was done without any discussion with the County,” said Sjoile. When the City of Leduc and the Town of Devon recently put forward annexation requests it was done in consultation with the County as part of a long-term growth strategy for the region.
“It should be done through planning and cooperation, not litigation, not a unilateral takeover,” said Sjoile.
While Edmonton has hosted several open houses in the area, Sjoile said they have not provided concrete or detailed plans, reports or studies indicating the need for annexation.
In fact, their own studies have indicated 26 per cent of their developed industrial lands are under-utilized and that the City has another 54 years of net industrial growth.
“The needs don’t match up with information available to the public and we don’t have anything that says otherwise,” said Sjoile.
In order for annexation to be approved by the Provincial Government, Sjoile said, the City has to prove it’s justified and that it’s in the public interest.
“Ask them questions. Ask lots of question. It’s their obligation to tell you,” he said. “We need to educate the public on the issues and questions and encourage engagement. We need to keep asking question to find out why this is in the public’s interest…not just Edmonton’s. We know why Edmonton wants it.”
Sjoile said the County is not opposed to Edmonton prosperity but it can’t be done at the expense of another community or region.
“Everybody has the right to growth and sustainability but not at the expense of others.”
Edmonton has said there would be “spillover” in the form of economic development to the region but Sjoile said that doesn’t make sense.
“We have one of the strongest economic regions in North America so who has the spillover. It’s well documented that Edmonton is not the benefactor of the surrounding communities.”
Another issue facing residents is if the City takes over their properties, they would fall under the City’s governance and jurisdiction. Sjoile said the City is already having issues providing quality service to its outer-edge neighbourhoods and isn’t likely to improve if they sprawl further out.
Edmonton, said Sjoile, needs to follow in the footsteps of Vancouver and Toronto. Rather than spreading out, as one of the top six cities in Canada, Edmonton needs to look at building up.
“We want Edmonton to be strong. We don’t want to to be so big it can’t sustain itself. We need the region to be strong. We need that information to prove the impacts to taxes, business and communities.”
Those who stay in the County under the proposed annexation will also be impacted. With the removal of 20 per cent of the County’s assessment base the question becomes how to pay for existing services or does the County cut back on services. “Everybody else would have to make that (20 per cent removal) up,” said Sjoile.
Alana Gueutal, president of the Leduc Regional Chamber of Commerce, asked Sjoile if Edmonton was the governing body for the region what would happen with the school portion of the taxes they collect. Sjoile told her that question has come up repeatedly at open houses and the vague answer given was that money would go to schools in Edmonton.
The County would like to see a regional partnership with the City of Edmonton that looks at how both communities can grow, develop and strengthen each other but, to date and historically, the City has not expressed an interest in partnering with any of the surrounding communities.
The County and City are currently engaged in negotiations, as required by the Municipal Government Board. The next session is slated to take place Dec. 16. Depending on the outcome of those negotiations, the next step will be the City having to explain in detail how their proposed annexation is in the best interest of the public, said Sjoile.
Individuals are encouraged to sign up for Leduc County’s annexation email list to stay informed about the annexation process. To sign up, visit www.goo.gl/dtKngs