Mayor calls on province to force RMs to contribute to urban recreation projects

SARM calls proposals ‘heavy-handed’, says negotiation and cooperation better solutions

Mayor Greg Dionne -- Daily Herald/File Photo

A debate over a controversial residency policy at city council Tuesday turned into a heated debate about municipal cooperation.

Multiple councillors stressed the importance of working together to build a better community, including working with surrounding RMs, while others said RM politicians and residents have to step up to fund infrastructure and facilities within city limits.

“We need to convince the RMs to do more collaboratively,” said Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody.

“But if you believe that’s in the cards in the next little while, you’re kidding yourself. How much are we going to get for our big project? And how many people from the RMs are going to use it? Loads of them. I’d like them to come up with some of the dollars.”

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowksi, who sits on a joint committee between the city and RM, also talked about the need for collaboration.

“Our RMs, friends, neighbours and relatives nearby need to be called out and say — work with us,” he said.

“We need your help for these infrastructure costs. For the pipes in the ground. For the $18million pipe going into the river that’s going to your RMs. If the RMs won’t engage in those conversations, I’m hopeful the people who live there will. They will call their councillors and Reeves and say ‘work with the City of Prince Albert because we now 30 per cent of our youth go to the city and we have a responsibility to share that benefit as well as that burden.’”

Other councillors were less optimistic the RMs would contribute to projects such as the new recreation centre.

Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller, who has sat on joint committees before, said that when working with RMs, “you’re told where you sit.”

Mayor Greg Dionne was another voice doubting the RMs would contribute to city projects.

“The RMs will not tax for us. They will not, to the point that the mayors are pleading with the government to force them not ask them,” he said.

“The citizens may want it, but they’re not the deciding factor. I don’t see a petition coming to either of the RMs to say ‘let’s help our neighbours.’”

Dionne said he’s challenging Zurakowski and Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards, who also sits on that committee, to get results and secure some contributions from the RMs. He hopes they have better success than he has over the last ten years he’s been asking.

“It’s the whole province,” he told the Herald following the meeting.

“The big cities build the big rec cities. We’re going to spend $60 million on this one and probably $70 million on the next ones. The RMs get to walk in the door and the residents of the city have to pay for it. That’s what frustrates me when they talk about being equal and fair.”

Dionne suggested that the city might examine a two-tiered fee structure, where city residents pay less than non-city residents to use the facility once it opens.

He also reiterated his call for the province to step in.

“The 16 cities are yelling the same thing,” Dionne said.

“We’re all on the same page. I’m amazed that the province hasn’t stepped in and legislated that there will be a two per cent levy in every RM to be paid to the nearest city to help them with sports facilities.”

He said it will be interesting once it comes time to fundraise for the new recreation centre. He hopes the RMs step forward, but he’s not optimistic they will.

The mayor’s words aren’t going unheard.

One person who watched Tuesday’s meeting through the online stream was RM of Buckland Reeve Don Fyrk. He was less than impressed with some of the comments made during the meeting.

“There were some things that were said that I do not appreciate,” Fyrk said.

He refuted the fact that RM residents don’t support city facilities. He pointed out that RM residents pay user fees when they do access city facilities. He also said that city residents use RM infrastructure – such as roads — and ride quads and ATVs through RM facilities, but that the RM hasn’t considered asking the city to pay for that.

“It’s tit for tat, but I’m not getting involved in mudslinging,” he said.

Fyrk said he would be willing to sit down and discuss a request from the city in a proper forum, but so far hasn’t been asked.

“We had no say in this — if the city decides to do something, why should we up our taxes in the RM for a project that we had no say or input into. They can come to any one of our council meetings or set p a direct meeting. Or we can have a special meeting to discuss everything. I’m open to that. If the city wants to talk, we’re open to talk, but from the looks of that meeting, I don’t know if they want to talk.”

The city’s demands, Fyrk said, and lack of consultation leads him to rethink existing collaboration, such as the newly-formed Prince Albert Regional Economic Development Alliance or PAREDA.

He said a regional approach — where everyone in an area benefits when one does well is “the way it’s supposed to be.”

He also rejected Dionne’s assertion that the province needs to step in to force RMs to contribute to city infrastructure.

‘that would be something councils have to work out on their own.”

The Herald reached out to RM of Prince Albert Reeve Eric Schmalz but did not receive a response.

Such a structure isn’t unheard of. In Alberta, the NDP government introduced Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks, or ICFs, that require neighbouring municipalities to outline which infrastructure residents of the other municipality rely on, and ways to share the costs of operating those facilities.

If municipalities can’t agree on an ICF, a mediator would be brought in to help them arrive at an agreement.

That’s not a path the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) wants to see the province go down.