Ponoka Mayor Rick Bonnett is a man on a mission.
Dismayed by what he feels is a double standard in the way Alberta’s large and small communities are funded, Bonnett has hit the road to drum up support from other municipal councils to convince the province to make changes.
Ponoka town council raised its concerns in dramatic style last November when it voted to withhold the education taxes — about $2 million last year — it collects on behalf of the province until more funding is provided for a proposed $15-million field house.
The province has not backed down. In a Jan. 10 letter, Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson said all provincial grants to Ponoka are on hold until it rescinds its motion to hold back school taxes.
Bonnett said the province says to unlock about $6 million from the federal government’s Investing in Canada Infrastructure Fund the town must use $4.5 million in provincial Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding as its matching portion.
But Bonnett said MSI cash is needed for town infrastructure and other funding should be available to cover the province’s share.
Alberta’s two biggest cities get other funding from the province for transit and other initiatives on top of MSI, he said.
“We feel that small communities are being passed over in the whole granting process. We just want a fair shake.”
Adding to the community’s frustration is its long history of rejected funding.
“This is the fourth time we’ve been passed over in our field house proposal since 2006,” he said. “It’s been a 13-year battle.”
Bonnett has already been to Rimbey, Stettler and Lacombe councils to gather support. He already has plans to make his pitch to Barrhead, Westlock and Gibbons.
On Monday, Lacombe council passed a resolution supporting that all communities should get equitable treatment in accessing federal and provincial grants.
Lacombe chief administrative officer Matthew Goudy said council’s motion reflects that it considers Ponoka a valued regional partner but is not specific support for the town’s approach in its dispute with the province.
Not all communities are affected equally by the provincial government’s stance on using MSI funding to get access to federal grants. Municipalities most affected are those that rely heavily on the money for basic infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, said Goudy.
In Lacombe, MSI is not a major part of its infrastructure budget.
Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) has been working with the government to develop a new municipal funding framework to replace MSI, said president Barry Morishita in an email.
“AUMA is seeking a framework that offers adequate levels of funding, increased predictability for multi-year financial planning, and long-term growth of the funding in alignment with Alberta’s economy.”