Tuesday November 25, 2014

Some RMs in increasing conflict


In this new Saskatchewan, we have both urban growth and a very different economy infringing on the old system of rural municipalities.

And there does seem to be increasing conflict as a result.

The thought crosses one’s mind as a result of the latest in the dustup between the City of Regina and the surrounding RM of Sherwood that has resulted in the provincial government ordering well-respected former judge Rob Barclay to review the handling of rural municipality’s Wascana Village development.

At issue is the proposed 736-acre, 14,000-resident community southeast of Regina where one big concern is an excessive burden an entire new city will have on Regina and provincial services like water and sewage and highway access.

“I don’t know if those concerns are valid or not,” Reiter told reporters last week while ordering the review. “I think the best way for me to find out is to appoint somebody independent to do an inspection and to report back to me.”

That said, it does seem more than passing strange that Reiter would evoke a little used section of the Municipal Act to appoint an ex-judge at $350 an hour to examine what he described as “a number of technical issues.”

That sounds more like an inquiry rather than Reiter’s description of an “inspection.”

Reiter acknowledged that Sherwood RM reeve Kevin Eberle’s ownership of some of this land to be developed is one of the reasons — albeit not the sole reason — for this inspection. Eberle did recuse himself from discussions and votes on Wascana Village, but such potential conflicts in the small municipal government will likely be a big part of what Barclay will need to clear up.

According to Barclay’s mandate, he is to look into the “the full history, background, process, facts and circumstances which led to the approval” of the development and to explore “the appropriateness of the directions, actions or inactions of any employee or agent of the municipality or member of council”.

This is not the first time the RM of Sherwood has run afoul with the province. You may recall back in 2007 that then NDP government took control of a rural municipality after half the council resigned.

Former legislative law clerk Merilee Rasmussen was appointed to act as both reeve and council in for Sherwood until by-elections were held. At issue was voter eligibility after the Court of Queen’s Bench declared the previous fall’s reeve election to be invalid because the winning margin was just two votes. Certain residents had been excluded from the vote.

Meanwhile, the RM of Corman Park neighbouring Saskatoon has had its share of issues, including a 36-per-cent tax and a major spending audit and major questions about how it was being run.

So acrimonious was the infighting that there was even a push to see the RM split in two.

But lest anyone think the problems are confined to the local politics of the larger RMs bordering the cities, consider the government’s need last year to set an interim mill rate to “support the equitable distribution of property taxes set by municipalities among property classes.”

The new formula decreed that the maximum ratio of highest to lowest mill rate factors that a municipality could levy would be no more than 15 to one.

So what spurred this need? Well, two years earlier the Rural Municipality of Eye Hill near the Alberta border had collected a paltry $1,600 from property taxes on agriculture land. However, its commercial mill rate to agricultural land ratio was 53.95, accounting for $1,844,584 of the $1,852,019 in property taxes it collected.

The major industry? A pipeline that couldn’t exactly relocate elsewhere.

One wonders if such conflicts in RMs will just keep increasing in this growing and booming province.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.



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