Hard Grass Landowners Council/Special Areas
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POSSIBLE CHANGE IN THE SPECIAL AREAS: You make it sound like there are no drawbacks, is this so?

​​​BACKGROUND: Not long ago, a thoughtful inquiry was sent to us by a man who received some literature distributed by our association about the Special Areas Act. Rather than simply answer his comments in private, we thought we’d respond publicly in a more complete way.

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LANDOWNER INQUIRY:

 

Today I received in the mail a publication from you, giving all the positives about switching [the Special Areas region from a provincial management corporation to an elected] municipality.

Question... You make it sound like there are no drawbacks, is this so?

From personal inquiries I found that a big negative for me is taxes will go up significantly, probably to pay wages for staff and given that it would be a government staff would be plentiful, plus the cost in the millions for a county office and looking around at other counties the building would have to be a keep up with the Joneses type (or in fact better them) then there would be the mandatory policing by that I mean presently our peace officers (2) generally confine their operations to the oil field, but as with all municipalities they onus gets switched to income generation and as such they start in on residents (under the guise of safety of course) so again we would be under the rat race of the other municipalities so again more taxes.

 

So bottom line .... I foresee my property taxes at least doubling! What say you?

 

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RESPONSE:

Hi John. For Grassroots Alberta, the starting point of our project was to explain the history of the region as well as the elements of the Act that many people may not know about. Specifically, the lack of security and tenure in terms of property rights.

Once landowners come to an awareness of why they’re treated differently, it’ll be up to the community to decide what’s best.

You ask about taxes. At one time, the Special Areas included all the land between the Red Deer River and Medicine Hat. Some of that land became CFB Suffield. In the 1980s, when Julian Koziak was Municipal Affairs Minister, he folded a vast chunk of that former Special Areas region into what became Cypress County. The last time we looked, there hasn’t been a residential tax increase in that region since 1985.

 

As for tax hikes, we’re not sure why anyone would assume it costs twice as much to run a locally elected government with a locally controlled administration than a provincial corporation you don’t control.

 

You likely know that two provincial commissions in the past, Longman and Hanson, both studied the Special Areas region and recommended that the Special Areas Board be phased out in favour of locally elected government.

One of our key researchers spoke at length with a landowner north of Lethbridge, a former Alberta Cabinet Minister whose family owned land in the Bow West Special Areas. This is a region that also left the Special Areas and reverted back to locally elected municipal government.

 

This landowner told us about going to the landowner meeting in Hanna at the time, and how the whole transition was handled by then-Municipal Affairs Minister Clarence Gerhart who had previously been mayor of Coronation.

 

We asked about any bumps or drawbacks that occurred as a result of the transition, including any possible impact on leases, etc. He assured us that the transition had been smooth. He also mentioned that his family now owns land that had been tax recovery land back then.

 

You may want to note that the Special Areas Board doesn’t actually have the authority a normal person associates with a board of directors. Instead, it’s an instrument of the crown and an extension of the Municipal Affairs Minister. The Special Areas Advisory doesn’t have the authority to call a meeting or approve a budget. The Act gives the Minister sole budgetary approval authority. At present, the Minister is the NDP MLA from Lesser Slave Lake. After a fashion, she’s your reeve. In fact, she has way more control over the region and your private land, than any reeve has over a municipality.

You asked about costs associated with a municipal office. You likely know the Special Areas is in the process of building new facilities in Hanna. We’re not aware the Special Areas Board possesses some innate ability to do this kind of thing any cheaper or more efficiently than any county or municipality in the province.

 

From the for-what-it’s-worth department these are some of the things we have been thinking about and discussing, or that people have called us to talk about. (Actually they don’t call anymore—mostly they send emails!) We hope that we have answered your questions.

© Copyright 2019 by Grassroots Alberta Landowners Association. The purpose of Grassroots Alberta Citizens Initiative/Centre for the Alberta Taxpayer is to promote the responsible and efficient use of tax dollars and to carry out an educational role with respect to wealth creation and responsible public policy. Grassroots Alberta Citizens Initiative/Centre for the Alberta Taxpayer are registered trade names and a project of the Grassroots Alberta Landowners Association, an Alberta non-profit organization.   Contact: Admin [at] GrassrootsAlberta.ca,  Mailing Address: Box 2707, Drumheller, Alberta, T0J 0Y0, Email: GrassrootsAlbertaCI@outlook.com, Phone: 403-823-0429