MD made strides in 2017
Foothills: Larry Spilak looking forward to seeing water, development in 2018
Wednesday, Dec 20, 2017 10:58 am
There were a lot of accomplishments in the MD this year, despite operating on a skeleton budget.
Reeve Larry Spilak said the MD of Foothills staff and council made a lot of tough decisions in the 2017 budget, but the municipality came through what could have been a difficult year.
The MD had to overcome more than $4 million in lost tax revenue from lands owned by Lexin Resources Ltd., as well as nearly $1 million paid by the MD in provincial education tax amounts on the same properties.
“Our challenge was to make that up without cutting any services or raising taxes to our residents and we were able to accomplish that,” said Spilak. “It was a huge challenge to our staff because we cut them back, we froze wages, we froze hiring, which put a bigger workload on them.”
The MD received good news in November when the Province announced it will pay back some of the education taxes owed to municipalities from abandoned oil and gas lands.
This amounts to more than $800,000 to-date for the MD, which will help bring some balance to the MD’s 2018 budget, he said. Spilak is hopeful this will mean residents won’t see an increase on the municipal share of property taxes.
Other highlights from 2017 included finalizing the annexation of 1,950 hectares of land from the MD into the Town of Okotoks after more than two years of negotiations.
Spilak said he was pleased to see annexation approved and completed after a number of sometimes contentious negotiation meetings, particularly over the inclusion of Wind Walk in the annexation plans.
“Thankfully our councils, and of course Mayor Bill (Robertson) and I have come out of this unscathed,” said Spilak. “We had some very intense negotiations during the period and I know there were bad feelings on both sides walking out of meetings from time to time, but we came through it just fine – maybe even better because of it.
“We have a great relationship both on the council side and certainly with myself and Mayor Robertson.”
The MD partially re-opened Hogg Park in 2017 after being closed for four years from the 2013 flood, he said, and Champion Park, a collection of train cars, rail equipment and buildings located near the Saskatoon Farm on Highway 2 that was donated to the MD and the Town of Okotoks, also opened for a one-day sneak peak in August.
He said it could take most of 2018 for the two municipalities to get Champion park open to the public.
“Now it’s a matter of forming a society with Okotoks and creating an atmosphere and a place where families can go and especially where schools can take their students for a lesson in history,” said Spilak.
Three new councillors came to the MD table following October’s municipal election – Alan Alger, R.D. McHugh and Rob Siewert. Two were elected by acclamation (Spilak and Suzanne Oel) and Jason Parker and Delilah Miller were re-elected.
“It’s certainly changed the dynamics of our council to an extent,” said Spilak. “We have a much younger council at this point, but it brings new energy and I think it’s going to be an exciting term because of that.”
MD council has a battle ahead as the Calgary regional growth management board takes shape, he said. Rural municipalities will be fighting for an appeal process to be part of the regulations of the board, since the voting structure will be based on population and favour the City of Calgary and other urban centres, he said.
He said the land base of rural municipalities has not been considered and providing an outlet for third-party appeals is necessary. Rural landowners feel as though some of their ability to plan for their own futures has been stripped, he said.
“This growth board really does not affect residents in the urban centres,” said Spilak. “They really don’t have any ownership in it. Once you get to the rurals, all of that land surrounding Calgary and area belongs to individuals.”
There are some major projects coming down the pipe for 2018, he said, including the potential approval of a wastewater facility and water licence at Aldersyde, which will help the MD grow its Highway 2A industrial corridor.
He said having more water available for the Aldersyde area will broaden the non-residential tax base, which could halt tax increases and possibly reduce residential tax amounts, he said.
“We’re running about 80-20 right now, 80 per cent residential and 20 per cent industrial,” said Spilak. “We would like to see 60-40. That would certainly set a new stage for taxation.
“Securing that, I have to say would be the single biggest accomplishment for 2018.”