The County of Wetaskiwin and Town of Millet are moving ahead with legal action against the City of Wetaskiwin, with the city’s departure from a group initiative the major issue.
The County of Wetaskiwin confirmed to the Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer the last week of June that county council, along with the Town of Millet council, had decided to seek legal action against the city.
It was stated that the legal action had been decided after the City of Wetaskiwin had provided notice that it was no longer required to pay revenue sharing related to the Joint Economic Development Initiative, or JEDI, which the city withdrew from in January, 2018.
County of Wetaskiwin Reeve Terry Van de Kraats said the council agreed to go that way because the city actually notified the county and town that the city itself was going to pursue legal action.
“We were willing to sit down and talk with them but they weren’t willing to go that route,” said Van de Kraats by phone July 4.
The disagreement is focused on what financial obligation the city has to the revenue sharing agreement that is at the heart of JEDI. Van de Kraats said the county and town offered the city arbitration, but that was turned down.
Van de Kraats said the two remaining partners in JEDI, the County of Wetaskiwin and Town of Millet, feel the City of Wetaskiwin still bears responsibility for the revenue sharing agreement for years that the city was a member of JEDI.
When contacted by email July 2, the City of Wetaskiwin stated it would not comment. “We are choosing to wait for the issue to resolve itself through the legal system before providing comments,” stated the city communications department in an email July 3.
Town of Millet Mayor Tony Wadsworth stated in an email July 9, “The goal of the joint legal action taken by the County and Town is to see the City honour their legal responsibilities under the terms of the JEDI Agreement when they filed Notice to Withdraw effective December 31, 2017.
“In my opinion, the City Council of the day (in June 2017) failed to recognize the ongoing responsibilities that the City, County and Town had committed mutually to each other when JEDI was first formed almost 20 years ago. In sharing a vision of industrial growth for our region as a whole (as opposed to growth within a singular municipality), all three municipalities recognized then that long term investment was required from each for the long term gain of all three. This is the specific reason why all three parties agreed at the time to write the JEDI Agreement in the way it was worded. Incidentally, this was an innovative approach that has been hailed by government and municipalities across the province ever since.
“For the City to now take a position that their mid- term investment over the past 15 years or so does not warrant them staying with the original plan is, of course, their right to exercise at any time; but in doing so, the City also cannot expect that their former partners will simply allow them to ignore the pledges that were made by all three municipalities for the long term benefit of all.
“This is why the County and Town are solidly united in resisting the City’s efforts to walk away without acknowledging their earlier commitments to us both. The County and Town have already won the first legal challenge that the City made (arbitration ruling) when the City failed to recognize some of the obligations that were made by the parties mutually when forming JEDI. It is unfortunate that the City are, again, now forcing the County and Town to take a similar legal route to see the City continue to recognize the remaining obligations made by all three parties. We will be happy to let the Courts decide what the City will have to pay as compensation for terminating their participation in a long term venture long before its expected duration.
“The County and the Town both regret having to make this decision. As neighbours, we would much rather have sat down and worked together to resolve this. But the City have been unwilling to go that route, so there is no other alternative open to us than legal action,” added Mayor Wadsworth.
Van de Kraats added that the goal of the legal action is to define what the city’s role is in the context of JEDI’s revenue sharing agreement. “The goal is that under the agreement as we believe it to be we still revenue share under what the agreement was for years we were all in there,” said Van de Kraats, who noted the legal action shouldn’t have negative effects on relationships between the municipalities.
“We continue to have a relationship with the City of Wetaskiwin and they say the same toward us,” said Van de Kraats.
How long the issue will remain in court isn’t known, stated the reeve. “It takes as long as it takes,” he added.