Ponoka is backing off from its threat to hold back property tax revenue from the province, saying they’ve made their point.
Town Council has voted to rescind a previous motion from November to withhold the education portion of municipal property taxes from the provincial government after Ponoka failed to secure $4.5 million in grant funding for a new fieldhouse.
But Mayor Rick Bonnett says it was never their intention to actually keep the money from the province.
“Our strategy was always to use this motion to draw attention to the inequitable treatment of smaller municipalities when it comes to grant funding processes. We have succeeded in accomplishing that goal,” says Bonnett.
Bonnett notes that Council’s efforts have generated significant support from other communities, some of whom have passed resolutions echoing Ponoka’s concerns about inequitable grant funding treatment for smaller municipalities.
The Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) is a joint federal and provincial grant program under which approved projects are funded 40 per cent by the federal government, 33 per cent by the provincial government and 27 per cent through municipal funding. Rather than provide new funding to municipalities for recreation and wellness capital projects under the ICIP, the provincial government told municipalities, including Ponoka, to use the annual grant funding they already receive from the province under the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) to fund the provincial portion of ICIP-funded projects if they wish to proceed with their ICIP grant applications.
Bonnett says while that may work for larger centres like Calgary and Edmonton, it simply isn’t an option for smaller communities like Ponoka.
“Larger municipalities that have a bigger tax base and deeper pockets can afford to use their MSI money to build recreation projects. However, smaller municipalities like Ponoka don’t have that luxury. We rely on that annual MSI grant funding to maintain roads and underground water and sewer infrastructure every year. Without it our infrastructure would suffer.”
Bonnett also pointed out that for smaller communities, it’s frustrating to watch the province grant billions of dollars for transit and road infrastructure to Calgary and Edmonton, and be willing to offer $700 million to Calgary for the winter Olympics, but aren’t willing to give a community like Ponoka $4.5 million for a recreation facility.
“Communities in Alberta have been hit hard with economic realities over the last few years. The support and success of small communities through equitable grant funding is vital to ensuring the overall economic health of the province,” says Mayor Bonnett.
Council is also not giving up on pursing funding to build a fieldhouse in Ponoka. Over the coming months, Bonnett says Council intends to focus its attention on developing a financial plan that will ensure a new fieldhouse – estimated to cost more than $15 million – gets constructed in Ponoka.
“A new fieldhouse won’t just benefit the citizens of Ponoka, it will provide long-term benefits to our region as a whole,” says Bonnett.
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