Economy, rumour driving petition: reeve

Inaccurate information and the poor economy likely fuelled much of the concern that drove a petition against a plan to borrow millions in the County of Stettler, says the reeve.

Inaccurate information and the poor economy likely fuelled much of the concern that drove a petition against a plan to borrow millions in the County of Stettler, says the reeve.

“I’m going to blame it mostly on misinformation and rumour and, I guess, partly on the times,” said Reeve Wayne Nixon. “Stories kept coming back to council about things that just weren’t right but by that time the petition was underway. It was kind of too little, too late, our letter to the public.”

Faced with growing discord over a plan to take $2 million out of reserves and borrow $7.6 million towards the estimated $9.4 million bill for a public works facility, council published an open letter to residents last week.

One of its first messages was to shoot down rumours that ratepayers could see their taxes double or triple because of the project. In reality, says the county farm/residential residents would see a maximum annual tax increase of $35 to $70, or less or nothing depending on the financing scenario chosen by council.

“We hadn’t decided whether we needed to raise taxes or not,” he said, noting the mild winter left some money in the budget that could be used.

Despite those assurances, council was faced with a petition of more than 1,100 names at its Wednesday meeting. The decision was made to accept the petition as valid and the matter was deferred until March 22.

Then, council will have a choice of dropping the borrowing bylaw or going to a binding public vote, which must be held by mid-June under provincial rules.

Brad Mappin, a local businessman who led the petition drive, does not want to be drawn into a quarrel but said he and others who gathered names were not the source of supposed rumours about huge tax impacts.

“We were going around on the premise that they were wanting to borrow $7.6 million and take $2 million and change out of reserves to build a $10-million shop. That’s exactly the message that we had.”

Mappin said it is the wrong time for that kind of expense and ratepayers’ voices will be heard.

“The people’s vote will speak when the time comes.”