The Town of Ponoka wants to annex about 1,100 acres to create a stockpile of land for future growth, but the move is proving controversial.
Ian Nicol, who heads a group of landowners opposed to the annexation, said many see no benefit in the proposal and are skeptical of the town’s rationale.
“We have asked what their plan is, what their plan is to utilize this land, and how they plan to attract business into town to warrant a 50-year land grab, and they don’t really have a plan at this time,” said Nicol, who lives on an acreage west of town.
Taxation is a major issue, he said. County residents pay about half the tax rate of town dwellers. A 10-year grandfather clause has been proposed, but that will just delay a big tax hike. It also puts county landowners at a disadvantage if they want to sell because the new buyer would pay the higher rate, he added.
Nicol said landowners are also frustrated with difficulties in lining up a meeting with council to discuss the issues at stake.
“We have no real open line of communication.”
Landowners met with consultants for the town this week to raise their concerns and it is expected they will recommend further meetings with affected residents.
Many question whether annexation is needed since the town still has other unused land. “They haven’t even filled up the empty lots here that are serviced.”
A recent meeting at the Ponoka County offices drew well over 60 people and another meeting two weeks drew a similar number.
“We’re all very frustrated. We don’t feel we’ve been given any answers,” he said.
“I’m sure the town feels they’re doing the right thing. I’m not trying to criticize their intentions. But it’s one of those things that I think they have to take a second look at.”
Town officials and consultants have been meeting with those potentially affected by annexation to hear their views and any concerns about seeing their land fall within town boundaries. A report will be prepared and a meeting is expected to take place soon with Ponoka County officials to discuss the town’s vision for growth, said town chief administrative officer Brad Watson.
There will also be further public meetings on the issue.
A town growth study completed in July suggests the town needs about 1,100 acres of land outside its current boundaries to provide for 50 years of growth. The bulk of the lands lie west of town and go as far as Hwy 2.
Before annexation can take place a formal application must be prepared and submitted to the Municipal Government Board. If an annexation is contested the board holds a formal public hearing before making a decision.
The annexation process is likely to be lengthy because of a backlog of applications to the Municipal Government Board.
Watson said the town is well aware a decision will not happen quickly.
“This isn’t a hurry-up offence,” he said. “It is a process that we recognize is important to our community.”