Town of Olds council ponders city status
Town of Olds council pondered the pros and cons of having Olds become a city at its policies and priorities meeting on April 16.
Before the 2011 federal census numbers were released, town CAO Norm McInnis had asked manager of strategic affairs Samantha Saretsky to compile a study on the pros and cons of gaining city status.
“We had done some work in anticipation of our census number from the 2011 federal census to be a little bit higher than they actually turned out to be, at 8,235,” said McInnis.
According to the Municipal Government Act, a city may be formed in an area where there is a population of 10,000 or more.
Saretsky talked to administration employees from Okotoks, Beaumont, Strathmore, and Lacombe to get an idea of the challenges they face in their municipalities.
“Primary concerns seem to be public support, whether your community wants to essentially advertise itself as having that small-town feel, or if you want to advertise that you have a big-city environment,” said Saretsky.
The biggest impact of Olds becoming a city would be on the highways.
“We would take control of the highways running through the municipality,” said Saretsky.
“We would be responsible for all maintenance done on those roads, which are extremely costly.”
However, a city would get access to some additional grant funding. Since the number of road kilometres maintained by the city would increase, the city would therefore get more funding from grant programs, such as the Basic Municipal Transportation Grant. The city would also become eligible for the Provincial Highway Maintenance Grant. Nonetheless, the city would lose its Street Assistant Program grant, through which Olds get $60 per capita. The city would also become ineligible for the Resource Road/New Industry Program, and the Local Road Bridge Program.
Saretsky’s report made clear that a municipality does not have to become a city unless it wants to. For example, Sherwood Park remains a hamlet, even though it has a population of 65,475.
Moreover, Municipal Affairs requires the municipality to get public input about the change from town to city.
Mayor Judy Dahl said she was interested in taking it to Olds residents at the 2013 municipal election.
“It would be a good opportunity where everybody comes,” she said.
“It could be a question to see what they think, much like Strathmore did.”
Coun. Mary Jane Harper disagreed with Dahl’s suggestion.
“We have a few years to think about this yet. I wouldn’t be in favour of putting it on the 2013 question for municipal elections, because I think we are too far away from that,” said Harper.
“I am in favour of putting this as part of council’s service plan for communication with our citizens.”
In the end, council agreed to accept Saretsky’s report as information and to revisit the option when Olds had a population of 10,000 or more.