Minister holds information session on MGA rewrite

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Alberta’s minister of municipal affairs was in Canmore last week to hold an information session on changes being proposed in the Municipal Government Act.

Danielle Larivee and staff from the ministry were on hand Friday morning (June 10) at the Grande Rockies Resort along with more than 60 people who attended to learn more about the legislation and how it is proposed to change.

Larivee said after four years of comprehensive review of the Municipal Government Act with municipalities, businesses and other stakeholders the changes reflect that communities need to work together and grow together to have a better future together.

“Fundamentally we need to recognize that our communities are interconnected and transcend municipal boundaries,” she said. “The modernized MGA ushers in a new era where municipalities are required to form regional partnerships to better serve Albertans.”

While the mandated growth management board for Calgary will be formed out of the Calgary Regional Partnership, all three municipalities that call the Bow Valley home have opted out of that organization.

Whether or not they will be included in the growth management board for the Calgary region remains to be seen. However, all municipalities that are not part the larger growth management board would be required to form interprovincial collaborations with neighbouring municipalities.

The goal, said Larivee, is to have municipalities work together on issues of land use planning and the delivery and funding of regional services.

Municipalities will be given three years to develop inter-municipal collaboration frameworks and if it has not been completed after two years an arbitrator would be appointed.

While there is a focus on inter-municipal cooperation and the mandating of growth management boards for Calgary and Edmonton, the changes to the MGA also address how citizens can have issues they may have with how decisions are made reviewed by a third party.

Currently oversight for municipalities is conducted at the local level – or in other words through municipal elections held every four years. In some circumstances, either a judge or the minister may review a council decision.

The modernized MGA, said Larivee includes expansion of the mandate of Alberta’s ombudsman to include oversight of municipalities and to respond to complaints related to business conducted at the municipal level.

“This gives Albertans another resource to have local concerns addressed in a fair, efficient and transparent manner,” Larivee said.

Another major change welcomed by municipalities is that they will be empowered to create different property tax classes for commercial properties. Currently municipalities can only tax vacant commercial space differently when it comes to commercial properties. There is also a proposed cap on the ration of residential and non-residential property tax rates at one to five.

“Together these changes to the municipal government act support Alberta businesses both large and small as we build a diverse economy,” Larivee said.

The minister said the draft of the modernized MGA is only the first version and after gathering feedback from the public this summer it will be updated.

Executive director Stephanie Clarke of the municipal services branch of the ministry said all regulations attached to the MGA would also be reviewed. Clarke said they would also be updated to reflect changes to the legislation.

“There are new regulations that need to be defined as well to tease out the regulatory details associated with some of these policy shifts,” Clarke said.

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen questioned why the government did not chose to address a major issue brought up by municipalities and the Alberta Urban Municipality Association regarding sustainable funding.

Assistant deputy minister Meryl Whittaker said when it comes to granting new taxation powers to municipalities, the government found that 83 per cent of municipalities generate sufficient revenue to meet their expected budgets and many also realize a year-end surplus. In addition, Whittaker said municipalities as a whole have accessed only 41 per cent of their regulated debt limit in 2014.

“On this basis we have not created any new taxation powers,” she said.

Sorensen said the statistics quoted indicate municipalities are trying to live within their means and questioned whether the department considered what they aren’t doing because they can’t afford it under the existing system.

“It has been suggested that property taxes and other tools municipalities have can be accessed more aggressively,” said the mayor. “Does the province have a threshold for property taxes, utility rates and education tax dollars that can be levied per household?”

Whittaker said because consensus could not be reached around the issue of what expanded revenue tools for municipalities could be created, it was not pursued.

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