Residents in Gadsby and Donalda are waiting to see if the government considers their villages worth preserving.
Alberta Municipal Affairs is undertaking a dissolution study for Donalda to determine whether the village has the economic oomph to stay afloat or whether it would be better off as a hamlet in the County of Stettler. A similar study is being considered for Gadsby, also in the county.
Donalda Mayor Terry Nordahl said they are baffled as to why the minister ordered a dissolution study for their community of 250, which is two years away from celebrating its centennial. A group of disgruntled residents sent a petition asking for an audit of village operations to the minister this past spring.
Municipal Affairs determined the community had been audited a few years ago and it was running fine. But then the minister ordered a dissolution study.
“It was a total shock to us,” she said. “We are a very sustainable village. We didn’t have a deficit or anything.”
Nordahl doesn’t know why a dissolution study was ordered when there was no petition asking for one.
The community, about 30 km north of Stettler, has just built a new firehall and the first lot has been sold in a new eight-home development.
Nordahl said most residents don’t support dissolution and plan to make that very clear when the study begins.
“We’re not going down without a fight. We love our little village.”
The Gadsby study was prompted by a petition signed by about a dozen residents, led by a small group who believe dissolution could mean lower property taxes.
Mayor Fred Entwisle said council is not in favour of dissolving the 100-year-old community 20 km east of Stettler.
“We want to keep trying to keep going,” he said.
“There’s really no reason to go county. We’ve been running in the black all along. I don’t see why we can’t stay the community we are.”
Entwisle said the village is on the verge of a major project to install a proper sewer system in the community, rather than relying on the existing pump-out or septic field systems. Provincial funding is expected to cover most of the cost of project that could go ahead in 2012.
Most of the village’s residents aren’t anxious to join the county, he said. Even some of those who signed the petition later reconsidered when they realized it had triggered a government process to consider whether the community should be dissolved. Some thought they were simply supporting a proposal to look at the pros and cons of dissolution and the potential tax advantages, he said.
A small group dissatisfied with the way the community is run is behind the dissolution talk, he believes, although he was reluctant to single out individuals by name.
After some questioned the effectiveness of the village’s council, Municipal Affairs officials conducted an audit earlier this year.
“That came out that we were doing just fine,” he said.
The government has made no secret of its concern that some small communities are struggling to support themselves. Municipal Affairs Minister Ray Danyluk was quoted earlier this summer as saying about 60 of Alberta’s 359 municipalities are ailing.
The dissolution study is the first step in the process. A study for Fahler, in northern Alberta, is almost complete and the minister has directed that studies be prepared for the Village of Vilna, northeast of Edmonton, as well as Donalda, said Municipal Affairs spokesman Jerry Ward. Petitions calling for studies from electors in the villages of Hines Creek, Innisfree, Gadsby and New Sarepta have been deemed valid. Provincial officials are working on getting those studies underway.
Since 1990, 55 dissolution studies were undertaken and about half of the communities eventually were dissolved.
Community finances, services and governance are examined in a dissolution study. What it would mean to the community is also considered.
Once completed, study findings are made public and local feedback compiled. The minister decides if additional public consultation is required before deciding whether to recommend dissolution to provincial cabinet.
Ward said a non-binding vote would be held to determine whether residents support the move and those results are taken into account by the minister.