Municipal guidelines changing

Written by MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas. First published in Sherwood Park News on July 22, 2016.

Alberta is growing, as is Strathcona-Sherwood Park. Our constituency is made up of some of the best communities in the province - communities that need robust, forward-looking legislation in order to meet our changing needs.

The last major review of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) was done in 1995, and no longer reflects our current economic reality, changes in technology, or evolving municipal roles and relationships. That is why our government is following through on our promise to modernize the MGA.

The MGA touches the lives of Albertans by determining how municipalities are governed, funded and developed. It guides how we pay for our roads, where we build our schools, and how we develop strong communities. Under the MGA, municipalities have the power and responsibility to develop, maintain and improve the quality of the physical environment and to make and implement decisions based on local need.

The MGA also outlines processes for assessment and taxation within Alberta communities. These taxes, based on various types of property assessments, help communities fund the programs and services Albertans enjoy.

No changes are proposed to how a municipality taxes and receives revenues from linear properties, like gas and oil wells and electrical lines. Municipalities will continue to collect and keep the taxes from linear properties within their boundaries. For the majority of Albertans, property taxes will continue to be set at the discretion of their local councils. In municipalities where the non-residential tax rate is more than five times the residential tax rate, grandfathering provisions will protect residential taxpayers from any dramatic increase to their tax rates.

The modernized MGA is about creating complete communities that have amenities, affordable housing, and essential services. Complete communities promote strong local economic development and will be good for creating prosperity. It will ensure that we work together to effectively plan and deliver infrastructure and services that are used at an inter-municipal or regional level.  

Extensive consultations were held in 2014 and 2015, involving feedback from more than 1,250 written submissions and approximately 1,500 people at 77 in-person community meetings in locations across Alberta. In each of these locations Municipal Affairs held public open houses, sessions for business and industry leaders, as well as technical meetings. This past year, as a member of the Economic Development Committee, I played a critical role in reviewing the extensive feedback and making recommendations to the ministry.

I was able to attend one of the Edmonton consultations held in June and was pleased to see a number of Strathcona County councillors in attendance to participate in the process. There has been a lot of information sharing amongst stakeholders not only with me, but also directly with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and her staff. I have also had discussions with those in the business community who support aspects of the proposed amendments. The Alberta Ombudsman is an independent Office of the Legislature - similar to the Auditor General - that oversees decisions to ensure procedural fairness. I have heard positive response regarding the expansion of the Alberta Ombudsmen scope to include municipalities, thereby increasing the tools available to citizens to strengthen accountability.

The community consultations have now wrapped up for the summer and took the time needed to engage Albertans and get this important piece of legislation right. This summer, Municipal Affairs travelled to 20 communities to gather feedback on proposed changes and ensure that the modernized MGA gives municipalities, businesses and school boards the tools they need to build strong communities and a more resilient and diversified economy for Alberta families.

You can still participate until July 29, 2016 by taking our online questionnaire. Have your say at: