County holds Public Hearing for Land Use Bylaw 1808

Kneehill Logo 2019

Kneehill County held a Regular Meeting of Council on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, which was called to order at 8:31am by Reeve Jerry Wittstock.

The first item on Council’s agenda was Request For Decision (RFD) 5.1 “Municipal Stimulus Program Funding” presented by Director of Transportation Brad Buchert. The County just received funding from the Provincial Government for the replacement of the Hesketh Bridge, therefore Buchert needed Council’s authorization to re-allocate budget money, as the County now needs to contribute less for the project. The total amount for the project is $1.3M, with $594K being paid for by the Province, and $705K coming from the County Bridge Reserve Fund. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2021. Council approved this re-allocation unanimously.

Buchert’s second item was RFD Policy 13-1 “Commercial & Industry Dust Suppression.” This item comes to Council as part of ongoing review of current policies. This policy only applies to commercial and industry, and administration recommended slight changes. One change is that an application with the County is needed to apply product to municipal roads, and this application can now be completed online. Buchert reminded Council that the industry pays for the application, not the municipality or the ratepayers. Council unanimously approved the policy as presented.

Buchert presented Policy 13-37, “Road Crossing Policy” for Council’s review. The biggest change is that this policy has been expanded beyond just for oil and gas, to allow for other utilities and for ratepayers who may need to cross utilities under a road. One stipulation is that these crossings cannot unduly interfere with future municipal works. It was expanded from oil and gas for circumstances such as a ratepayers need for cattle water to cross an intersection, and this wouldn’t be a one-off as it has been in the past. The application can be completed online, and includes a fee for industry application. Council approved the policy unanimously.

Community Planner Barb Hazelton presented agenda item 6.1 to Council, “Redesignation: SW 30-29-25 W4 from Ag District to Ag Business”, also called Bylaw 1825. This is a land parcel directly north of Acme, and a request for 70-75 acres to be used to build a commercial greenhouse for the selling of local produce. All water will be recycled, and supplementary water will be from water wells. They expect that 50 workers will be needed in the first phase, and plan to have their first crop ready in Winter of 2021. They will grow strawberries and tomatoes to sell across Alberta, the Prairies, and beyond. They will have one semi load of output per day, so traffic will be increased very slightly. Council moved first reading of the bylaw, and also set the public hearing date for October 13, 2020 at 10:00am.

Bowen Clausen, Manager of Parks and Agricultural Services, presented items to Council. The first was Policy 1-1, ASB Structure, as part of the ongoing review of Council policies. Most of the changes were grammatical, and some statements that were redundant were removed. The Agriculture Service Board reviewed and approved the changes, and Council approved the policy as presented.

Clausen’s next item was Policy 1-27, “Land Care Extension”, also as part of ongoing review. The ASB decided to rescind the policy, as it is a redundant program already adopted through the Ag Business Plan. Council agrees to rescind the policy, as recommended by the ASB.

Clausen’s third item was presenting Council with “Horseshoe Canyon Day Use Facility and Pay Parking Options”. Clausen noted that at June 23rd’s meeting of Council, Council requested that options be brought back to them for further discussion, related to uses for a Canyon day-use facility.

He noted that there are various options for the Canyon, which he listed for Council, however a letter of intent was received on September 1, 2020 from a private industry, indicating their intention to build a facility near the site of the proposed County day use facility. Because the County has to wait for the previously approved road closure request to be approved by the Ministry of Transportation before they can proceed, which generally takes a full year, Council motioned to suspend the paid parking and day-use washroom facility and direct administration to work with the Focus Group to address gaps that the private industry may not fill, once the full extent of that project is known.

Council expressed a desire to not compete with the private industry or to waste tax payers’ dollars by building something similar. They agreed that it was important that something be developed at the Canyon. The group desiring to build on the Canyon would be able to build a bigger facility than the County could, and should they offer free parking, it would not make sense for the County to have paid parking. Council was encouraged at the desire to build at the Canyon, and thanked Mr. Clausen and all those involved in the Focus Group.

Mr. Clausen noted that they would wrap up the Focus Group in February, and that Council should expect to hear back in March of 2021 with a presentation. Council carried the motion unanimously.

Director of Corporate Services Bill McKennan presented agenda item 7.1, “Tax Cancellation – Manitok Energy Inc.” This item has been in process for a number of years, but now can be officialized that they have exhausted all avenues for collection from the company. This write off will push the County over their budgeted $1.1M in tax write-offs, and McKennan noted that there’s more coming this fiscal year. Council unanimously motioned to void and cancel taxes and penalties as presented.

At 10:00am, Council opened the Public Hearing for Land Use Bylaw 1808. This bylaw’s review began in the summer of 2019. Prior to the hearing, the County advertised the Bylaw on social media and in The Capital to ensure the public had awareness of it. Changes include creating consistency between sections, grammatical edits, clarifications, and updated verbage to remain consistent with the Municipal Government Act.

Some highlighted changes in the proposed new Bylaw:

- Residents and non-residents can apply to have a mobile business in the County.

- There can now be 3 parcels taken out of a quarter section, rather than 5.3 parcels.

- A resident only needs to have 10 acres to build another residence on their property, rather than 20 acres as the Bylaw used to read.

- Many safety items were added under campgrounds.

- The cannabis section has a change in terminology, not policy, to align with language in the federal bylaw.

- Under Hamlet regulations, dugouts are not permitted in hamlets, exterior storage of derelict vehicles are not allowed in hamlet over 14 days (unless for decoration), and recreational vehicles may not be lived-in/slept-in for more than 14 days, including on unoccupied lots. As well, hens are now allowed to be kept in hamlets, which was previously prohibited. A maximum of 4 mature hens can be kept, but must be licensed for biosecurity. The hens must be in a coop, eggs cannot be sold, and slaughter cannot be done on the property. Roosters are not allowed in hamlets for noise reasons.

- Administration created a new district, called the Health and Public Services district. Health services have previously been labelled Ag District, which didn’t always make sense. Under this new district they can have more appropriate guidelines.

- In the area of solar energy, the “in no way may a solar energy system with a ground mounted array/project unduly interfere or effect the enjoyment or value of neighbouring parcels.” Hazelton noted that the County is very limited in their powers over solar developments, which are dealt with by the AUC.

A complete list of changes can be found in the Council agenda package.

After Hazelton completed her presentation, individuals could come forward from the public to show either support or opposition for the Bylaw. There were no comments, letters, or individuals in support of the bylaw. There were letters written, and individuals present, in opposition to the proposed bylaw. The majority of comments were in regard to the solar statement, or lack thereof, in the new bylaw. They request that it be left as it is rather than taken out.

It seems that residents felt that the County did not do enough to listen to their concerns about a solar project. However, Hazelton noted that once a solar project reaches a certain point, the County no longer has say over it. It is important that landowners with concerns about a solar project talk to the AUC and the County, as the AUC is the one with the most authority. In the case of the solar project in residents’ minds, no comments from landowners were received by the AUC, so it was assumed that there were no issues. After an hour, Council ended the public hearing and returned to their Regular Council Meeting.

Director of Corporate Services Bill McKennan presented item 7.2, “2021 Budget Guidelines”. The MGA requires that administration completes multi-year budgeting forecasts three years out for operating budget, and five years out for capital budget.

McKennan highlighted the budget difficulties, which by now are no surprise to ratepayers, but noted that Kneehill County works hard to maintain one of the most competitive tax rates across the province. In his perspective they do not face an expenditure problem, but rather revenue losses at the hands of the Province which have created most of their problems. Losses include the $1.9M loss in taxation of shallow gas producers, the ever increasing annual costs for policing now that this expense is in the hands of Counties, and the latest challenge of an uncertain loss in revenue from oil and gas assessment review. Because this latest loss is not yet defined, it is difficult to budget with certainty. The loss will be anywhere from $3.5M annually to $7.3M annually. Lastly, the interest rate has been lowered more this year than it has in the past 50 years, which impacts the County negatively since they are saving not borrowing. The rate is not expected to recover until late 2022. All of these losses impact the 2021 budgeting process by a reduction in revenue of 12-24%. He notes that maintaining a modest tax increase will be a significant challenge. McKennan expressed thanks for the $2M in provincial and federal grants the County received this year. He let Council know that this budget deliberation will be a fluid process, with a baseline amount presented to Council subject to change as new information comes to light.

Council expressed gratitude, and motioned to pass the planning in accordance with the guidelines presented.

CAO Mike Haugan presented a series of items to Council. The first was a request by letter from Senior’s Outreach that the Reeve or Council member attend their upcoming AGM on September 16 at 10:00am and bring greetings from Council. Jerry Wittstock agreed that he would attend, and should he become unavailable, would designate a member of Council in his absence.

The second item, Policy 11-4, “Meetings in County Office”, required Council’s discussion and input. This item was presented as part of ongoing policy review, but unlike most in this meeting which were minor shifts, this one was presented with a big change. Administration recommended that Council open the County Office for outside groups’ meetings, with some conditions, and for no charge. Currently this is not allowed. Administration noted that Council meetings would always take precedence, and that a member of County staff would be present.

Council responded mostly in opposition to the idea, largely because they would not want to take revenue away from other buildings who rent and rely on that revenue. Council noted that should they adopt this policy, greater clarity about which groups would be rented to should be included, i.e. charities, not for profits. Council did note they appreciate having a confidential work-space, which includes their mailboxes and desks. The Reeve noted that he would be in opposition to Council chambers being used by other groups. Council suggests that administration take the policy back, and amend to give more clarity then bring back to the next Council meeting for further discussion.

Haugan presented Policy 15-6, “Promotional Items”, for review. The policy previously stated that items over $20 that the County gives out must be approved by the CAO. Haugan felt this amount was too little, and Council agreed. Council carried the new policy, without the $20 limit, unanimously.

Council passed the Linden Fire Agreement, and the Carbon Fire Agreement. Both of these items are part of the ICF agreements passed at the start of the year, but required more discussion in these areas. Administration met with committees from Linden and Carbon to outline cost sharing agreements and management of maintenance on equipment. Council passed both agreements as presented.

Council then returned to discussion of Land Use Bylaw 1808. After hearing the public feedback, Council recommended the public feedback be incorporated into the new bylaw. Council wondered if anything could be done to ensure the County takes into consideration feedback from adjoining landowners, without putting the County offside with the AUC. Council also wondered if a clearer definition of Environmentally Significant Area could be included in the new bylaw, after a suggestion from the public was made about this.

Council moved second reading of the Bylaw, with two Councilors opposed, and it will be brought back to Council with amendments at the next meeting.