Representatives from municipalities across the Lakeland got together earlier this month to form a regional committee designed to pursue the possibility of tying into any potential future funding agreement pertaining to Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR) tax dollars.
The current five-year funding arrangement originally agreed between the provincial government and the City of Cold Lake, County of Lac La Biche, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and MD of Bonnyville back in 2011, is scheduled to end on Dec. 31, 2016.The deal, otherwise known as I.D. 349, has been used to bring the City of Cold Lake up to date with its “chronic” infrastructure deficit, allowing projects such as the 1 Avenue road redevelopment project and the second phase for the Energy Centre to come to fruition. In 2015, Cold Lake expects to receive just north of $19 million in CLAWR funding.
With many in the region discussing the possibility of tying into future CLAWR funding arrangements, the MD and Town of Bonnyville, along with the County of Lac La Biche got together on Jan. 5 in an attempt to “get on the same page” and see if an agreement can be reached with the provincial government that would see weapons range money distributed more evenly amongst Lakeland communities.
Speaking at last week's Bonnyville Town Council meeting, local Mayor Gene Sobolewski indicated an agreement had been reached to form what will be known as a regional opportunities committee. Moving forward, the group will be doing all it can to ensure their names are in the mix when the current agreement is up for renegotiation in 2017.
“I think the one thing that came out of (the meeting) was the unanimous agreement that any future (arrangement surrounding CLAWR funding) does need to address the needs of the City of Cold Lake, but it has to have a benefit to all of us in the region also,” Sobolewski said.
The formation of this committee comes off the back of a public back and forth debate between Sobolewski and Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland over CLAWR funding, highlighted in the news pages of the Nouvelle in late December.
Although an invite was extended to the City of Cold Lake to sit on the committee, the urban municipality declined to do so. Another Lakeland community with a presence on the committee – the Village of Glendon, was unfortunately unable to attend the early new year meeting.
MD of Bonnyville Reeve Ed Rondeau and the rural municipality's new CAO Chris Cambridge indicated they were looking forward to potential discussions with the province in an attempt to hammer out new terms to what they believe is a lopsided agreement.
“This is an agreement that has an end date,” Cambridge said at an MD council meeting on Jan. 14. “Therefore, something has to come after it.”
“We would like to do this with everybody (at the table),” said Rondeau, referring to Cold Lake's failure to attend the first gathering.
He added, “But (Cold Lake not attending) still doesn't stop us from approaching the province.”
Elsewhere, the Town of Bonnyville council was a little more frank with its views over the current agreement, with Coun. Nestor Kunec stating “everything would be on the table” once Cold Lake's current agreement with the province comes to an end next year.
“Every time I look at this agreement, I think something has got to change,” Kunec said. “My belief is that once this thing expires, everything is on the table and there are no pre-conditions at all. That's the way I see it. There is absolutely no reason for any municipality to receive preferential treatment (from the provincial government). These are taxpayers dollars and should be distributed evenly.”
The group is expected to meet again for further discussions on Feb. 2.