Ponoka council is calling on the Alberta government to think creatively with regard to grant funding.
That was the clear message from Mayor Rick Bonnett during a press conference Friday morning at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex.
Using the arena as the backdrop to his message and accompanied by some town councillors and Town of Stettler Mayor Sean Nolls, Bonnett said a three-phase plan was created to be shovel ready for grants.
“We have four municipalities that worked on this and all four municipalities look at this as economic development, more than just a recreation project,” stated Bonnett.
In a desperate attempt to secure provincial funds, which have been promised only through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI), the town made two motions: First to ask the province to release $6 million in federal funds from an infrastructure project, and second to withhold the school tax requisition until the town gets the 30 per cent provincial obligation.
There has been mixed reaction from residents on this decision. One concern is that the town will get punished by the province.
“We send them a cheque for, in Ponoka’s case about $2.1 million a year, and they turn around and give us a cheque for $1.1 million (MSI),” said Bonnett to questions on the possible loss of funds.
The reaction from the province in recent days has been muted. What the town risks is coming up against legal response from the province as the requisition is directly tied to the School Act.
Bonnett admits this is a risky move, but feels it’s time to act.
In support of the town, Mayor Nolls suggests there are other revenue streams that haven’t been considered. “We’re not asking the government to throw in extra funding. We know that there is funding in other ministries as well.”
“As much as we like to collaborate — because obviously we have four municipalities on board — the ministries themselves can collaborate where there’s possibly other streams,” Nolls added.
Coun. Kevin Ferguson added his support, pointing out that while 53 per cent of the Alberta population lives in the cities, the other 47 per cent lives in communities like Ponoka.
“When driving in those cities…you tell me where the canola fields are. You tell me where the dairy barns are. You tell me where the oil rigs are,” said Ferguson.
“We deserve what everyone else gets in this province,” said Ferguson.
One resident questioned council on the decision.
Murray Mackay said that Ponoka has seen little growth over the years, about half a per cent, and he wanted to know where the money would come from to pay for the project. “We’re barely keeping up with the mortality rate in town,” stated Mackay.
Bonnett said Mackay’s facts were not accurate, pointing out that the town’s growth from 2011 to 2016 was more than that. According to Statistics Canada it is closer to 6.1 per cent.
Mackay challenged the mayor on several issues but would not allow the mayor to respond. Ferguson took issue with his comments.
“I often wonder, are you more concerned about proving your opinion or do you care about this town?” asked Ferguson.
Despite Mackay’s response that he does care, Ferguson suggested his comments were more to “ambush” the press conference.
Bonnett added that this is about economic development. “You said with the Centennial Centre (for Mental Health and Brain Injury), 50 per cent of them (employees) come from out of town. They come from out of town because those facilities are not in town.”
Mackay added his concern that council is leaving itself open for additional issues with the province. “Aren’t you scared?”
“You need to get some changes? Sometimes you need to make some bold moves,” offered Bonnett. “You don’t make omelet without cracking an egg.”