The County of Wetaskiwin will see a number of mandatory changes in the upcoming years with the release of the modernized Municipal Government Act. File photo

The County of Wetaskiwin will see a number of mandatory changes in the upcoming years with the release of the modernized Municipal Government Act. File photo

Modernized Municipal Government Act released

New MGA presents new challanges for municipalities

After approximately three years of work to update the Municipal Government Act (MGA) the modernized document was proclaimed Oct. 26, 2017. Within the new MGA are many amendments, which will mean many changes to the County of Wetaskiwin’s — as well as the other municipalities across the province — bylaws, policies and operations.

During Wetaskiwin county council’s Nov. 7 meeting, councillors approved the Municipal Government Act Proclaimed and Regulations Released as information. However, items pertaining to the updated MGA will come back before council for further discussion.

Accompanying the modernized act are several associated regulations that contain the details of the legislative amendments, as well as new requirements under the act:

Municipalities must offer orientation training within 90 days of a councillor taking oath. Municipalities may use internal or external sources to deliver the training. All members of the new County of Wetaskiwin council attended the two-day Elected Officials Education Program training hosted by Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties and Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. “Normally we have brought in a lawyer for orientation,” said County of Wetaskiwin assistant CAO Rod Hawken.

Municipalities must adopt a public participation policy; ensuring the policy identifies the types or categories of approaches that will be used to engage municipal stakeholders, and the types or categories of circumstances a municipality will use to engage stakeholders. The policy must be in place by July 23, 2018.

A code of conduct for elected officials must be established and address representing the municipality, communicating on behalf the municipality, respecting the decision making process, adherence of policies and procedures and bylaws, respectful interactions, confidential information, conflicts of interest, improper use of influence, use of municipal assets and services, and orientation training attendance. The code of conduct must also set out a complaint process and sanctions in the event of a breach. The code must be in place July 23, 2018.

Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB) Regulation members and clerks must undergo training based on a standard training program approved by the Minister of Municipal Affairs. The regulation comes into force April 1, 2018 and training must be completed by April 1, 2019.

Municipalities must list, publish and keep up to date all planning policy documents, as well as describe how they relate to each other and of the municipalities’ statutory plans, on their websites. The related sections of legislation comes into force Jan. 1, 2018 and all policy documents must be listed and published Jan. 1, 2019. This ensures the transparency of planning documents.

As a minimum standard, municipalities must adopt a written three-year financial plan and a five-year capital plan, in addition to the annual budget. For the 2020 budget the financial plans must include anticipated total revenues and total expenditures by major category, anticipated annual surplus or deficit, and the anticipated accumulated surplus or deficit. The capital plans must include planned capital property additions, and allocated or anticipated funding sources. The first financial plan is be to be prepared by the end of 2019 for the 2020-2022 financial period or the 2020-2024 capital period.

All municipalities must adopt intermunicipal collaboration frameworks (ICF) with the municipalities they share boarders with. The ICFs will address intermunicipal land-use planning, service support development, and regional service delivery and funding. Along with ICFs, municipalities are being asked to create intermunicipal development plans (IDP) with neighbouring municipalities. The County of Wetaskiwin council recently approved IDPs with the counties of Ponoka and Camrose. ICFs must be in place bey April 1, 2020.

All municipalities must create municipal development plans (MDP). MDPs must be in place by April 1, 2021. The plans must address future land use within the municipality, proposals and manner of future development, transportation systems within the municipality and in relation to adjacent municipalities, and the provision of municipal services. The plan must also contain policies that are compatible with subdivision and development regulations, provide guidance on the type and location of land uses adjacent to sour gas facilities, respect the provision of municipal and school reserves, and respect the protection of agricultural operations. MDPs must also be consistent with any IDPs that impact the municipality.

Moving forward, municipalities must notify neighbouring Indigenous bands, reserves, and Métis settlements of any new MDP or area structure plans (ASP) and allow for opportunities of representation where the communities can make suggestions. Municipalities may invite neighbouring Indigenous communities to collaborate on future regional service delivery and enter agreements. In creating IDPs with the counties of Ponoka and Camrose, the County of Wetaskiwin, within its documents, addresses First Nations land along the boarder. Any development within one kilometer of the reservations’ land will lead to notices being sent out similar to landowner and adjoining county notices.

Now councils may, when a bylaw needs revision for non-substantive changes, pass a revised bylaw without the need for advertising to the public. In order to use this streamlined process municipalities must ensure those revisions meet the requirements outlined in the act.

Municipalities have the option to decrease the required percentage of eligible signatories, accept online petitions, extend the time period for collecting signatures. The timeline for petition validation is extended 45 days. Personal information within the petition cannot be disclosed to anyone except the CAO and CAOs delegates and cannot be used for any other purpose than validating the petition; if the witness affidavit is not included in the petition the municipality must exclude the associated signatures.

When it comes to making public advertisements, municipalities may choose alternative forms of advertising, including electronic advertisements or by passing an advertising bylaw. Bylaws must meet the requirements of the act, including, council must be satisfied the method will likely bring the matter to the attention of all residents in the relevant area, a public hearing must be held on the bylaw, the notice of the bylaw must be advertised in the newspaper or residential mail or delivery, and bylaws passed in this section must be made available for public inspection.

Municipalities may provide extended councillor parental leave by bylaw. The bylaw must address provisions pertaining to leave length, other terms and conditions of the leave entitlement, and how the municipality will continue to be represented during the period of leave.

During a process of municipal amalgamation, an initiating municipality must notify all local authorities that operate in the affected municipalities. A written notice to local authorities must be provided. To assist in the amalgamation order, municipalities must submit a report that contains a list of all matters agreed on, matters on which there is no agreement between municipal authorities, and relevant matters related to the formation or amalgamation orders. Under voluntary amalgamation of summer villages, summer villages with non-continuous boundaries may amalgamate if they share a common body of water and retain their status as a summer village.

In order to protect environmentally significant features, municipalities may designate land Conservation Reserve (CR), a new type of land reserve. If a municipality designates land to CR it must pay compensation to the landowner in an amount equal to the land market value at the time of the application for subdivision approval. If there is a disagreement of the market value the matter must be determined by the Land Compensation Board.

The scope of off-site levies was expanded so municipalities may use the funds to build community recreation centres, fire halls, police stations and libraries. Municipalities must ensure information use to calculate levies is kept current and that there is a correlation between the levy and the benefits of the new development. Municipalities may also create joint off-site levy projects that provide intermunicipal benefits.

Municipalities are now required to refer municipal statutory plans—which include ASP, IDP and MDP— within 1.6 km of a provincial highway to Alberta Transportation. “It used to be 800 meters. It is one of our stumbling blocks, even with 800 meters,” said Hawken.

Municipal councillors will no longer be able to form the majority of any legislated appeal board hearing panel. Municipalities that experience challenges in obtaining non-municipal councillor members are encouraged to work with neighbouring municipalities to create regional options. This legislation will come into force Jan. 1 2018.

Regulations pertaining to access to information for assessors and property owners has been clarified. Municipalities must provide to an assessed person — when requested in the manner required — information in the assessor’s position at the time of the request showing the assessment of the property was prepared, and a summary of the most recently assessed property in the municipality of which the assessed person is not the owner. When it comes to corrections, assessors will be able to make corrections to assessments under complaint without needing ratification or having the complaint withdrawn first. If an assessment under complaint is amended the complaint will be cancelled and the taxpayers rights will be reset, unless the amendment is agreed upon by both parties.

Municipalities are enabled to split non-residential property classes into the sub-classes of vacant non-residential property, small business property , and other non-residential property. If a municipality is to create a small business property sub-class it must ensure the municipality’s bylaw makes reference to the number of full-time employees across Canada employed by the business to determine if it is a small business, and ensure the tax for the small business property is not greater than that of the “other non-residential” class or less than 75 per cent of the tax rate for the “other non-residential” sub-class. This legislation will come into force Jan. 1, 2018.

The centralization of industrial property assessments will become the responsibility of the province Jan. 1. The centralization is to eliminate inconsistencies in assessments across the province. The County of Wetaskiwin opposes centralized industrial assessments and has concerns there will be difficulties completing the process. In 1995 Alberta decentralized the assessment process and since then has had one of the most decentralized frameworks of the Canadian provinces. Costs associated with centralizing assessment will be recovered from designated industrial property owners.

All farm buildings in urban and rural municipalities will not be assessed or charged municipal or education property taxes. Provisions were put in place to phase in farm building exemptions in urban municipalities over five years. Farmland will continue to be assessed as farmland until it is no longer used for farming operations.

Municipalities may grant multi-year tax exemptions, deferrals or reductions to encourage cleanups and redevelopment of brownfields. If a municipality wishes to use the available tax tools it must establish a bylaw that identifies the brownfield properties that may make an application, specify the taxation year(s), and specify any conditions the breach of which cancels the tax exemption or deferral. This legislation will come into force Jan. 1, 2018.

The municipality and municipal assessor must set an notice of assessment date between Jan. 1 and July 1 and a mail the assessment notice a minimum of seven days prior to the notice of assessment date. This legislation will come into force Jan. 1, 2018.

Municipalities are not required to provide property tax receipts unless requested by the taxpayer.

Municipalities may establish for-profit corporations without the requirements of ministerial approval. New requirements focusing on accountability and transparency will ensure the public has a meaningful opportunity to review new proposals for corporations. Councils must pass a resolution to establish a municipally controlled corporation (MCC) with a business plan that must address the costs relating to establishing the MCC, the value of assets to be transferred, a cash flow projection of three years or five financial statements if taking control of an existing corporation, and holding a public hearing. This is not in effect yet and the related sections of legislation is anticipated to come into force in April of 2018.

Municipalities must develop joint use and planning agreements with school boards, through amendments to the MGA and School Act. This is not in effect yet and the related sections of legislation is anticipated to come into force in April of 2018.

There are still multiple sections relating to the MGA that are not in force, including: sections related to inclusionary housing, sections related to off-site levies on provincial infrastructure, sections related to municipally controlled corporations, sections related to the Community Organization Property Tax Exemption regulation (COPTER).

These areas require additional policy development and consultation.

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