Lacombe County embracing recreation

Rural municipalities taking bigger role to meet ratepayers expectations

Lacombe County councillors recently posed for photographs at three recreation area grand openings in one week.

All three came about because of partnerships between the municipality and county residents and developers and showcase how the expectations of residents of rural municipalities have gone beyond keeping roads paved or gravelled.

“Recreation has become an increased focus over the last few years for sure,” said Reeve Paula Law.

Last week, Sandy Point Beach was officially opened. Built by developers of the neighbouring Sandy Point RV Resort as part of their development agreement with the county, the well-equipped site has become a big draw.

Anderson Park, on land donated by county resident Jack Anderson on the east side of Gull Lake, also had its grand opening. The county funded the park built on the 26-acre site.

The county also footed the bill for a parking lot for Mary and Cliff Soper Natural Area. Cliff, a former county councillor, and his wife donated 25 acres east of the Blackfalds Bottle Depot.

Anticipating that more recreation “asks” from urban partners are coming, council recently asked staff to look at how other rural municipalities are sharing costs for recreation facilities.

“We all know our residents are using these facilities and we want to contribute our fair share,” said Law.

“What we found is there are a number of different ways to do it.”

Some councils choose an arbitrary amount each year. Others share a portion of the taxes from linear sources (pipelines, power lines and similar infrastructure) or fund recreation project capital and operating on a points system.

Lacombe County typically funds recreation capital projects through a $30 per capita levy that goes into a reserve fund specifically set up for recreation. Operating costs are often funded based on county usership, or by lump sums.

The provincial government’s enthusiasm for municipal collaboration will likely touch on recreation co-operation as well. So far, the details are not clear.

“I think everything is on the table for those. We really haven’t seen what will be required in them,” she said.

Under the province’s updated Municipal Government Act, counties and municipal districts must create Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks with their urban partners. The agreements must be done within two years or an arbiter could be called in.

Lacombe County may need to have 21 frameworks in place by the deadline.

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