By Stu Salkeld The Pipestone Flyer
After a special meeting Aug. 1 of the Joint Economic Development Initiative, it seems obvious that the three current partners are not happy one of them has asked to leave.
The City of Wetaskiwin already made its intentions clear last June with a resolution that, as of Jan. 1, 2018, they will no longer be part of JEDI, the joint effort to encourage economic development in the entire region. At the special meeting held in County of Wetaskiwin council chambers, board members had to ratify the city’s request.
Present were JEDI chair and county reeve Kathy Rooyakkers and board members Bill Elliot (city mayor), Wayne Neilson (city councilor), Mike Storey (Millet council) and Tony Wadsworth (Millet mayor), along with executive director Rod Valdes. Absent was Keith Johnson (county councilor).
The agenda contained three important items pertaining to the city withdrawing from JEDI: a notice to discontinue application of JEDI municipal development cost &revenue sharing master agreement, amendments to JEDI municipal development cost &revenue sharing master agreement, membership agreement and bylaws and status of review and audit of 2016 JEDI cost &revenue tax sharing.
Valdes noted JEDI received a letter June 28 stating the city was withdrawing from the three-way organization.
Mayor Elliot spoke up, saying the city of Wetaskiwin still agrees with JEDI’s philosophy and concept, but didn’t agree with the old funding structure. He said the city is still interested in working with the County of Wetaskiwin and Town of Millet on economic development.
The issue of revenue sharing was, in essence, the subject of the discussion.
Reeve Rooyakkers said she always saw JEDI as an agreement to look at economic development as one effort for one entire region, and was less confusing and time consuming for new businesses because they only had to talk to one group rather than three. “It really disappoints me (that) the city sees it differently,” said Rooyakkers.
City councilor Neilson said he agreed with Elliot’s comments, and also noted when the issue originally came up at city council, he and his peers asked their staff to examine ways in which the city could remain in JEDI but in a more sustainable manner. He said when the final vote came, he felt pushed against a timetable.
He said city councilors were concerned only with how much money the city put into JEDI, and how much it was getting out, especially when the city conducts its own economic development. “We do not want to duplicate services,” said Neilson.
At this point, Rooyakkers read a letter from absent board member and county councilor Keith Johnson. In his letter Johnson stated there’s a rumor another municipality wants into JEDI, but he felt the membership should stay at the town and county for now.
Rooyakkers said JEDI costs the city $5,000 a year on average. She said ion past years, some county councils weren’t happy with what was perceived as JEDI losses, but the county stayed the course. “An agreement is an agreement and the land belongs to the region,” she said.
“We lost big in the first few years of JEDI.”
Millet mayor Wadsworth pointed out that, after looking at a revenue report, the City of Wetaskiwin took money out five years out of nine, and paid money in four years out of nine.
In comparison, Wadsworth stated the county contributed seven years out of nine, while it took money out two years out of nine.
Wadsworth noted the Town of Millet has seen many benefits from JEDI and said it’s a bad time to splinter, as he feels the economy is recovering.
Rooyakkers also voiced concern the city gave little or no warning it was going to drop out of JEDI.
Elliot, and city manager Dave Burgess, both disagreed. Elliot said last November the city requested the three partners talk about restructuring revenue and cost sharing agreements. He said the city suggested dates to talk, and no response was received. ‘For whatever reasons, people chose not to attend a meeting with us, so you left us no choice,” said Elliot.
Rooyakkers responded that there were only three dates with two weeks notice, while county council had some members absent and a full schedule. “There was absolutely no way,” she said.
Wadsworth said Millet got the request, but there was only one date the town could meet and once they found out the county couldn’t attend, Wadsworth said he wouldn’t have felt comfortable going with one partner absent.
Burgess listed more than three dates that were suggested, and there was no counteroffer made of other dates.
Neilson said he didn’t want a statement about the city’s cost of $5,000 to be misunderstood. He stated the $5,000 in question is the city’s portion of the revenue sharing. He said the city also has operating costs for JEDI that are “significant,” around $200,000 for 10 years.
Wadsworth responded by saying every municipality in Alberta has been enduring a recession. “We’ve been through a pretty lean time economically,” said Wadsworth. He also wanted to know if economic development offices in other municipalities were expected to turn a profit during the economic downturn and stated he’d been told no, that’s not realistic to expect.
Rooyakkers responded to Neilson, “You’re only looking at dollars and cents.” Neilson then responded that no agreement lasts forever.
Elliot said the city didn’t want to see any hard feelings about this decision, as, even though the city wanted out of JEDI, it still plans to work with neighbours on economic development.
Rooyakkers responded that watching the city leave, “it’s disappointing.” Elliot agreed. “Yeah, it’s disappointing…but we still want to be friends.”
Rooyakkers added that JEDI will continue on without the city’s membership past Dec. 31, 2017. “I think we can move forward with Millet and ourselves, and we’ll be fine,” she said.
All three agenda items passed by vote.