Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman came out swinging last week in his column/blog on the topic of inter-municipal relations. It was notable because nothing like it has been seen in years – maybe decades. Relations between the Town of Slave Lake and M.D. of Lesser Slave River have been a pretty lovey-dovey affair in recent years, on the whole. If they disagreed about anything (probably they did), they kept it behind closed doors. Theirs was a solid partnership, with much in the way of mutual benefit – an example to other bickering jurisdictions.
‘Look at those other guys! Why can’t they get along like us?,’ and so on.
And now this.
What sparked the mayor’s pugnacity was an M.D. decision to pay less than invoiced under the Inter-Municipal Agreement. The town asked for $415,000; the M.D. paid $304,000. That leaves the town short of its budget, looking at an unpalatable tax increase to cover it.
The M.D. council thinking on the matter, evidently, is that the town’s calculations on the invoice are not legitimate. They include a share of the cost of recreational facilities that M.D. residents use, including arenas, ball diamonds and the pool. Fair enough. But, says an M.D. source, included in the calculation is the cost of upkeep of certain ‘green spaces’ in the town that M.D. council felt it shouldn’t have to contribute to. Hence the lower amount on the cheque sent to the town last month for the 2016 invoice.
To the town (judging by Warman’s comments) this represents a breach of trust. Taking it public suggests a couple of things: one is that he thinks stirring up public opinion might help the town’s case. Another is that he doesn’t have high hopes for changing the minds of his counterparts on M.D. council in the usual manner – meaning behind closed doors.
Could it work? Rallying support in the town won’t be hard. Who wants a tax increase? On the other hand, why would M.D. residents support the town, when their council has just found a way to reduce its cost of doing business?
It’s looking like a good old Mexican standoff.
Where it leads is anybody’s guess, but when neighbouring municipalities can’t get along, the topic of amalgamation inevitably comes up. If there isn’t enough money to run two municipalities, why don’t they merge into one and cut some costs? Interestingly enough, outgoing town councillor Phil Lokken pretty much said that in a recent interview.
More on that later. For now, M.D. councillors and staff were making optimistic sounds at their meeting last week: ‘Calm heads will prevail,’ and ‘we’ll work it out,’ and the like. They also resolved to pay up on the Fire Services Agreement, to the tune of $300,000 for 2016 and the same amount for this year. That, it should be noted, is on an invoiced amount of $439,000, leaving the town in an even bigger hole.
The next meeting between the two councils should be an interesting one.