Priorities for Vulcan County
I believe our priorities should be:
1. ) Establishing Vulcan County as an attractive place
to invest so we can continue to grow our tax base.
2.) Strategic land use planning that minimizes conflict
between competing land uses and adjacent land
owners while maximizing mutually beneficial
3.) See fair and reasonable cost sharing for joint
services that includes municipal partners in the
long term capital planning process.
4.) Lobby with municipal partners for responsive
action from the RCMP on rural crime and public
education in crime prevention strategies.
5.) Build political consensus for an emergency
response to the Covid-19 pandemic that respects
the central role of the Alberta Emergency Management
Click the down arrow for more information
Growing Our Tax Base
With the conclusion of Inter-municipal Development Plans with the Town of Vulcan and the five villages, Vulcan County has a starting point to explore what the Village’s have called “Joint Development Areas” and what the Town considers “Opportunity Areas.” Conceptually, these areas will be identified by partnering municipalities as lands where they can directly partner with each other on development.
This is not a new concept.
Joint development areas have happened elsewhere in the province and Nisku, the partnership between City of Leduc and Leduc County, is a shining example of a mutually beneficial development opportunity area. Consider the potential of a commercial industrial business park, one with heavy rail access; say, through partnership with the Village of Champion. Another example might be serviced country residential lots at the northeast end of McGregor Lake in partnership with the Village of Milo. Regardless, the potential is huge for Vulcan County.
Consider the case of country residential development near Milo. At present, the Village of Milo is one eleventh of the taxable assessment of their fire district. At present, Vulcan County has country residential properties across a gravel road and south of the Village that have no direct-to-home potable water service. It goes without saying that hauling water to fill a cistern is not everyone’s cup of tea. The lack of fire hydrants pushes the cost of home insurance higher. A developer looking at the area must really wonder, what is the development potential of these properties? High taxes. No water. High insurance premiums.
The solution to this problem is a Joint Development Area. If the municipalities were to invest amounts similar to their proportionate share of the existing fire district, they could agree to a long-term cost and revenue sharing agreement that would offer a handsome return on investment by attracting serious developers. For instance, on a two-million-dollar water line project, the Village of Milo could invest approximately one hundred eighty thousand dollars. The benefit for them would be to negotiate a revenue share on the general municipal taxes of about 8% and additional sales of potable water that would make their utility service more viable. Any agreement would be long-term, perhaps 25 or 30 years, after which the municipalities would contemplate renewal or annexation options.
The benefit to Vulcan County of such a proposal would be enormous. Lands that presently have waning development potential due to high taxes, no water and high insurance, are suddenly much more appealing for development because the lack of water and high insurance premiums would be addressed immediately. New development on lots that are otherwise sitting vacant will bring more tax revenue, year over year, into Vulcan County; helping to level out the spikes in the tax roll that are a disincentive to development.
This is doable. It happens elsewhere in Alberta.
Strategic Land Use Planning
Rural municipalities exist for the benefit of rural ratepayers and the unique services that they require, whether it be agricultural services, intensive road maintenance on transportation routes, or maintaining setbacks from irrigation systems to ensure that these systems are not compromised by non-agricultural development.
However, rural municipalities are not exempt from community development and agricultural taxes cannot afford to increase exorbitantly to pay for municipal operations. Diversified forms of development can pay a handsome return on investment, even when the energy industry is in a downturn and uncollected linear taxes put a big dent in the County’s balance sheet. New development, being less susceptible to swings in the energy markets, is something Vulcan County needs to be very intentional about encouraging.
We need the money. We need the people.
There are areas and corridors along McGregor Lake Reservoir that are ideal for country residential development because their location minimizes the potential for zoning conflict with agriculture, especially if these lands are sandwiched between the Village of Milo and the reservoir. These properties can also be more readily serviced by regional water and wastewater systems that promote long term viability.
It’s time to think strategically about zoning, good stewardship of zoning regulations, and zoning conflict mitigation that encourages development with higher market value assessment.
Fair and Reasonable Cost Sharing for Joint Services
Villages can be ideal partners for Vulcan County on shared services and joint development. But it must be appreciated that they have tight annual operating budgets. They do, however, have access to provincial and federal grant dollars that make up the bulk of their capital budgets for asset acquisition, maintenance, and infrastructure programs.
Shared services are the building blocks of meaningful partnership and collaboration between municipalities. The cost of these services, be they traditional municipal prerogatives or unique services tailored to the needs of a community, require mutual respect and understanding for what each partner can bring to the table. Understanding the role of a municipal partner or their ratepayers, in community development, is key to arriving at reasonable cost-sharing formulas for shared services.
With consultation, villages are capable of leveraging their capital budgets and grant dollars to contribute their share of a joint service. Especially when doing so will keep those costs out of their annual operating budget. On the flip side, villages often benefit from direct administrative ties to their community and identify unique needs that require a municipal response.
With traditional shared services, be it recreation boards, libraries or fire protection, including the villages in the capital planning process and understanding their share of the costs is critical. Dependency and handouts by one municipality to another is not a viable path to sustainability. Understanding the fair share of each municipal partner for a capital asset purchase, based on taxable assessment (capacity to pay), is critical. Respecting the financial constraints faced by villages (tight operating budgets) while consulting with them on major capital asset purchases, will allow them to come to the table as partners.
The Inter-municipal Development Plans (IDP) contemplate the concept of a “Community Growth Initiative.” From my experience, an example of one of these would be the municipally operated Canada Post dealership in Milo and the Community Police Station that Arrowwood attempted six years ago with the onset of more rural crime. In both instances, one hundred percent of the cost for these services was incurred by the villages, despite significant benefit to county ratepayers.
Within the IDPs, using the concept of a Community Growth Initiative, a village would be able to make a business case for a unique shared service and propose a fair and reasonable cost-share for this service. A willingness to consider how Community Growth Initiatives benefit Vulcan County ratepayers and promote economic development in the region is a critical piece of meaningful collaborative governance.
Villages operate within tight financial margins, often trying to move the community ahead in ways that challenge organizational capacity. If we respect their need for meaningful partnership and cost sharing, they will be more willing to leverage their capital budgets for regional services.
Consensus on Policing Strategies to Prevent Rural Crime
In recent years we have witnessed an uptick in property theft and vandalism. We have all heard stories of rural residents fearing for their lives and suffering from the loss of property. Companies who employ rural residents take a huge hit when their gas plants and other installations are stripped of valuable metals.
How do we tackle this problem? How are we to do so when our local detachment has a handful of officers and parts of the County are policed from larger depots with big demanding territories?
The RCMP are willing to engage in community forums that hear the concerns of residents and can initiate crime prevention strategies. This is only one piece but a critical one. It engages municipal leaders and community members in direct communication with those policing their communities.
I believe the seven municipalities in Vulcan County would benefit from agreeing to a comprehensive policing and crime prevention strategy for the county. It would identify immediate challenges, community expectations, and targets for what our municipal leaders and local RCMP members believe to be a realistic level of service.
A comprehensive policing strategy for Vulcan County would focus our conversations with RCMP and clarify where deficiencies are happening, be it ongoing problems or a failure to meet expectations.
Policing is now a significant line item in the budgets of all seven municipalities. We need to ensure that stronger linkages exist to encourage police action on our priorities. We need to see that avenues of communication over accountability are developed.
Upholding the Principles of Emergency Management
Local Government in Alberta is subject to the Emergency Management Act and works directly with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA). With the direction and assistance of AEMA, all municipalities are trained on the Incident Command System of Emergency Management. Municipal officials are regularly reminded that a failure to exercise due diligence in emergency preparedness and response may result in a finding of “criminal negligence” should a State of Emergency be declared.
Alberta has emergency management professionals at AEMA. They know what they are doing and how to execute a proper emergency response. Unfortunately, since March of 2020, the Province of Alberta has not allowed these professionals to correctly build out a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With this in mind, the pandemic has been instructive in how to ignore the principles of emergency management, declare the wrong legislated state of emergency, and then avoid following an emergency response plan that was last reviewed in 2014.
The first Director of Emergency Management for Alberta, Lt. Col. David Redman, details it all in his thorough report from July of 2021.
Please refer to my Blog for more information.
Endorsements for Christopher Northcott
Promoting the development potential of our communities and the great people who live in Vulcan County should be a priority for the next County Council. We need to grow our taxable assessment
while encouraging viable community development.
We, Peter and Shannon Silbernagel, recommend Christopher Northcott as Councillor for Vulcan County Division 6. Christopher is very conscientious and very dependable and well organized. As a member of the Milo Lions Club for many years he is very willing to help in any way for work parties and very capable at executive positions. Christopher has been involved in local government issues and is very well spoken.
I have known Christopher for many years. I have always appreciated Christopher’s knowledge of government policy and procedure, and his enthusiasm and commitment to preserve rural quality of life. I have occasionally relied on his ability to simplify issues for better understanding.
Colleen DeitzSecretary Treasurer, Milo & District Agricultural Society & Former School Board Trustee, Palliser Regional Schools
Christopher is a great community and business promoter that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for about 6 years. Christopher was a great resource for me in my previous role as GM of the Arrowwood Coop and has always been a helpful community connector. Christopher was always making helpful suggestions on potential business opportunities and what people needed throughout the county and is passionate about seeing the small communities and rural community members succeed.
Having acted as the CAO for Arrowwood and Milo Christopher is thoroughly familiar with the MGA and has great understanding of how to things work within the county. Christopher has an excellent professional presence, he listens, acts with respect in conversations and is very approachable. He’s also very involved in community initiatives and has a finger on the pulse of Vulcan County. Chris would make a great representative for the people of Division 6.
Matt McBeanCIR Realty & Former Manager of Arrowwood Co-op
Having worked with Christopher on the County’s subdivision and development appeal board, I have found him to be a knowledgeable person and one that digs in to find the info needed. He is a person that listens and takes into consideration more than just his or just another opinion. Having seen Chris in action I would say, in my opinion, that he would be a good choice for a Vulcan County councillor.
Boyd FoxFox Works Construction & Former Member of the Vulcan County Subdivision Development Appeal Board
Contact Christopher Northcott
In the spirit of citizen engagement, I welcome the opportunity to hear your thoughts, listen to your concerns and be inspired by your ideas. Your interest in Vulcan County business is important to me.