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Reeve: Development needs a reminder about public spaces

Ponoka County discusses promises of public access at Meridian Beach

Ponoka County’s reeve is thinking some area residents need to take a step back in their calls for a gate at one development.

Reeve Paul McLauchlin, at council’s July 14 meeting, reacted with distaste to an item brought up by Coun. Doug Weir during his report on his recent activities, namely some calls Weir got regarding some Meridian Beach residents wanting a gate at the entrance to the development.

“I got calls from some individuals in the area that Meridian Beach is polling its citizens about putting a gate on the main entrance,” said Weir.

“It is already been made very difficult for people to get to the lake plus the public beach and the playground, having to walk quite a ways from the community hall parking lot and through a residential area. As well, what about access by the fire department?”

For McLauchlin, the issue was that Meridian Beach was only made possible due to an agreement to maintain public access to certain areas — a fact that seems to have evaporated in a fashion similar to what’s been seen in lake levels over the years.

“Part of the problem is that whole development was predicated on the promises made about public access.” McLauchlin said.

“I think there are a lot of new people there that need to be reminded of the promises that were made about those public facilities. I know people that have tried to use those beaches have been harassed.

“There seems to be an attitude issue among some out there. I think those that started the development made those offers in good faith, but that there has been a change and (those residents) need to be reminded of that public access.”

Meanwhile, the county’s regional fire chief Dennis Jones was asked his opinion and as any emergency service, he is not in favour of gated communities.

“I don’t think there is a public service that likes them,” he said, before citing the nearby Raymond Shores development as an example.

“I go out annually to test the lock box and the key. It works 90 per cent of the time. But, there are instances when we have to go assist EMS and, depending on the nature of the incident, every second counts.

“The residents aren’t occupied all of the time and if the gates freeze, the minutes it takes to get in can determine whether or not people or the building can be saved. And that liability can come back on us as to why we didn’t get there sooner.”

Meridian Beach also only has one access in and out, something Weir thought there was a plan to fix.

CAO Charlie Cutforth explained there was a second access planned for back in 2016, but it didn’t come to fruition.

“There was a rezoning application for a potential development on the east side of Meridian Beach and the county was going to put that other access through its statutory road allowance then tie into the road that goes to the nearby sewage treatment facility,” he said.

“However, the land was sold, no development ever occurred and so nothing has proceeded.”

The reality is, Cutforth added, that the county is legislatively responsible for the public road allowance in the development and having a gate would mean getting authorization from Alberta Transportation.

“Raymond Shores got approval as it is a condo association. Further to that, everyone is entitled to access to the lake and beaches and that public access was a condition of the development to ensure it wouldn’t become a secluded, private operation,” he said.

Financial stakes

Cutforth told council the county has received no payments from oil and gas companies and about $5 million of the rest of its more than $25 million overall property tax levy.

“And there has been no indication that we will receive any more by end of the month or that any are going to take advantage of the five per cent discount by July 31,” he said, adding the monthly payment sign-up for residents has been very successful.

Weir feels this is a huge concern and that the county will be in it up to their necks come the end of the year.

McLauchlin agreed, but knows cash flow is the real issue and there may yet be some payments coming in.

“I would not be surprised if there are some eleventh-hour envelope drops or a phone call saying the cheque is in the mail,” McLauchlin said.

“Credit is tight and the money saved on the discount is something companies need in-house and won’t get elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, some companies are filing assessment appeals, which may affect county revenues near year-end with Cutforth stating three have been received already.

“I don’t have any great optimism for the end of the month and by Dec. 31 I certainly hope so,” Cutforth said.

“I’m not concerned about our two major taxpayers — one is restructuring and the other has the ability. The question with the first is if they have the cash flow to get the discount and with the other is whether they choose to pay.

“Both amounts are about $2 million each so the discount is about $100,000 each. The issue is if that is enough of an incentive.”

McLauchlin believes that the looming assessment discussion is somewhat connected to the lack of payments, but there are a lot of pieces that has the energy industry holding back.

“There are some companies that definitely appreciate some of the steps the county has made and the concessions, plus a number that don’t want to get penalized. It will be interesting to see what happens July 31,” he said.

“But at the same time, the health of the industry is going to come down to whoever is left standing in 2022.

“With us freezing on capital spending and a few other things, should be enough. From how it looks now, we may not have to draw from reserves to keep running. I’m more worried about municipalities collectively next year. A lot of concessions have been made and any assessment changes may have a significant impact on them.”

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