High Prairie town rejects Big Lakes capital grant offer

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Town of High Prairie council has rejected a proposed new annual capital grant agreement with neighbouring Big Lakes County.
At its regular meeting Aug. 25, High Prairie council approved a motion to renegotiate the proposed agreement with the county that offered an annual grant of $250,000 for infrastructure projects until 2029.
The proposed agreement was drafted by the inter-municipal committee for the town and county.
Many council members agree council ask for more money and shorten the proposed eight-year term.
“It would be nice to get more money,” Mayor Brian Panasiuk says.
“Maybe we could propose a shorter term.”
Councillor John Dunn suggested the term be cut in half.
“We’re willing to sign for four years,” Dunn says.
Councillor Therese Yacyshyn agrees.
“To lock it in for eight years, that’s just not right,” Yacyshyn says.
Councillor Sacha Martens suggests the figure be doubled to $500,000.
The proposed figure for the grant from Big Lakes was also questioned by Councillor Donna Deynaka.
“They might have a good year (in tax revenue) and it might be higher,” Deynaka says.
Panasiuk notes that the grant was $1 million about nine years ago and was reduced several years ago when the county lost revenue when energy companies did not pay linear taxes.
“I know when they didn’t get the revenue from oil and gas companies, they didn’t give us anything,” Panasiuk says.
“They should be able to collect more with the new government regulations.”
Councillor James Waikle was more optimistic about the $250,000 proposed for the grant.
“It sound like we’re lucky to get this amount from them,” Waikle says.
Panasiuk suggests the town renegotiate with a fresh mind.
“We should go in with an open approach and see if we can get more,” Panasiuk says.
Big Lakes council approved the proposed agreement at its regular meeting Aug. 10.
“With collection rates returning to normal, Big Lakes County is in a better financial position,” CAO Jordan Panasiuk says.
The grant was reduced to $850,000 around 2017 when Big Lakes started losing millions of dollars in tax revenue from the energy companies, he says.
He says the proposed grant supports a neighbouring municipality.
“We want to make sure we could provide a feasible amount long term,” CAO Panasiuk says.
“It would provide stability for the Town of High Prairie through this agreement.”
Under the proposed changes, the agreement will:
-Move to a flat each year from a floating formula based on linear assessments.
-Incorporate more stability into the funding by eliminating requirements for county approval on specific projects and carryover requests.
Big Lakes agrees to maintain a reserve account for the purpose to carry out its obligations to the proposed agreement.
Funding shall not be used to fund more than 50 per cent of the total cost of an infrastructure project, the agreement states.

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