Town to seek legal opinion

Council wonders if Big Lakes County can legally refuse capital grant

Chris Clegg
Richard Froese
South Peace News

The Town of High Prairie is going to seek a legal opinion on whether or not Big Lakes County can refuse to pay a portion [$400,000] of the 2019 capital grant as promised last year.

Councillor Brian Gilroy brought forth the issue at council’s June 23 meeting.

“I see no reason they can take that back,” he said.

“If we allow this to happen…it sets a very bad precedence.

“It’s a matter of principle. Do we have more options?” he concluded.

“It is a lot of money,” said Mayor Brian Panasiuk.

At the same meeting, the Town decided to delay all 2020 capital projects until the issue was settled.

Big Lakes County decided at its budget meeting April 29 to eliminate an annual capital grant of $698,000 to the Town in 2020, plus the $400,000 carryover from 2019. The County cited a loss in tax revenue as the reason.

Town council wrote the County expressing their concerns; the County debated it at their June 10 meeting. A motion to still give the money was defeated 5-3.

The Town has some support from the County. North Gilwood – Triangle Councillor Ken Matthews noted the money was to be given in 2019 and wondered why the carryover was eliminated as part of the 2020 budget.

“I wonder why it was taken out so quickly,” Matthews said.

The money was still not forwarded to the Town because the County requires invoices before payment. Town council decided to change the project to upgrades at the water treatment plant [a job still not completed] instead of improving 52 Avenue.

However, the Town did not advise the County of the change in plans – the County approves all capital projects the Town chooses with the grant.

“I know it’s a hard hit, we should still give them the money,” High Prairie East – Banana Belt Councillor Don Charrois said.

Not everyone agreed.

“We, as a County, are cutting back on projects and they should, too,” Kinuso Councillor Ken Killeen said.

“We have a chance to save $400,000,” he added.

Panasiuk agreed the water treatment plant project was never approved by the County.

“They wanted invoices on completed projects…[the water plant] is still not done yet,” said Town CAO Brian Martinson.

“It hurts to have that pulled out,” said Panasiuk.

“I’m not sure what we can do. We can talk to the County. We can express our disappointment.”

Much to her distaste for spending money on legal fees, Councillor Donna Deynaka suggested seeking a legal opinion.

“I’d like to have a legal opinion on what our options are,” she said.

She also noted the upgrade at the water plant aids county residents as well because the plant supplies water to various rural co-ops.

Panasiuk told council he wasn’t entirely sure what the County’s rationale was for its decision.

“[We can] go back to the County and say, ‘We’re hurting here.’”

Town council’s motion passed unanimously.

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