‘Amalgamation’ or ‘annexation’, ‘one voice’ or ‘our choice’, the Rural Municipality of Edenwold and the Town of White City are waging a war of words over whether to become one big community or stay separate.
White City announce a proposal to amalgamate with surrounding bedroom communities like Emerald Park in May.
The town has been running a public relations campaign called “One Community. One Voice.” to build support in the area.
The R.M. of Edenwold has wrapped up a fourth ratepayer meeting to determine its next move and is also running a counter-campaign called “Our Communities, Our Choice” to share its own information about the proposal.
Edenwold Reeve Mitch Huber said the proposal to amalgamate “caught them off guard” because there was no discussion prior to the announcement in May. Rather than making a decision alone, he said the council took it to their residents to learn their feelings and concerns about the proposal.
Out of about 4,700 ratepayers in the RM, Huber said about 500 attended a total of four ratepayer meetings and an exit survey showed 80 per cent of them were against the annexation. He noted the primary concerns residents raised at those meetings were about the potential for higher taxes and the ability of the town to come through on promises for new schools and recreation facilities.
“Those common comments are easily stated, but hard to impose. To say where your taxes are going to be in two years or four years from today – that’s purely speculation,” Huber commented.
Huber went on to explain the RM initially allowed more commercial and industrial development in the area back in the 1980s when White City was opposed to growth.
“Now that it’s built into one community, I guess White City would like to have it under one umbrella or they would like the revenues from the commercial tax base and the extra residential tax base,” Huber said.
It is the loss of that commercial tax revenue that remains a major sticking point from the R.M.’s perspective. Huber said if the annexation goes ahead it would represent a loss of about 40 per cent of the current tax base for Edenwold.
“If we lose 40 per cent of our tax base, a) we’re going to want significant tax loss compensation and that’s going to have to come from somewhere, it’s going to cost the local people some money,” Huber said, adding that it would require complete restructuring and layoffs.
He added that this could open the door to future annexations by the town.
White City Mayor Bruce Evans said joining together under one community makes sense in order to better advocate for future development of community services like schools and recreation facilities. He said it comes down to a question of whether the town will be able to grow in a coordinated way.
“Or are we going to have competing ideas that are brought forward – often without any prior consultation – that confuse the Prairie Valley School Division and others – as to who is speaking for the community,” Evans said.
He said the town has grown exponentially and has actually been the fastest-growing small urban municipality in Canada over the last two census periods and growth studies predict it will hit a population of 22,000 within the next 25 years.
In response to the concerns raised over higher taxes, Evans said White City did a comparative analysis to study the tax rates between the communities.
“The analysis indicates that for the majority of the residents in Emerald Park – their taxes will possibly go down somewhat, certainly not going to go up dramatically,” he explained.
When it comes to the R.M.’s warnings of a tax bill due to compensation costs for its lost commercial tax revenue, Evans pointed out tax revenue is supposed to go toward city services.
“That’s not taking into account the services that they’re no longer going to have to provide and the expenses that they would have to incur if they kept those properties within their jurisdiction,” Evans said.
While Evans said the town is hopeful they can reach a resolution on the annexation with the RM, he added they did expect this type of pushback based on past experience dealing with Edenwold.
The mayor noted that White City and Emerald Park have formed various joint committees to plan for things like schools, libraries and fire services but within the past two and a half years the R.M. has pulled out of those organizations.
“It begs the question, if they were not prepared to work with us on any of those committees, the whole idea of a municipal district or a municipal planning district – we’ve already been there,” Evans explained. “The R.M. has, by their actions, indicated that they’re not really interested in working cooperatively with us.”
He said if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, the town will ask the province to appoint a mediator, and the final decision may lie with the Saskatchewan Municipal Board to rule on.