County, city going to arbitration over services

·3 min read

Efforts to complete an Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF) for service delivery partnerships between the city and county of Grande Prairie hit a snag last week.

City council made a request for binding arbitration amid discussions that will possibly affect how the two collaborate on fire services, roads and more.

“Right now, everything is up in the air,” said county reeve Leanne Beaupre.

“For the County of Grande Prairie, we were quite disappointed (by the arbitration request) because we felt we were making a lot of progress in areas we initially had differences on.

“We still believe that coming to a decision between municipalities is better than having somebody else arbitrarily impose it on you.”

Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given said in a statement that arbitration is the “best way to finally bring resolution to this process and allow a positive relationship for the future.”

The city statement cited one and a half years of negotiation and “fundamental differences” with the county.

Municipal Affairs minister Tracy Allard said her department “has a roster of private arbitrators and mediators available to all municipalities during a dispute.”

The impetus for the negotiations was the Municipal Government Act (MGA) requirement for bordering municipalities to complete ICFs.

ICFs are broadly concerned with services and infrastructure, identifying which services are best provided on a municipal or intermunicipal basis, according to section 708.29 of the MGA.

The deadline for the ICF is April 2021.

Fire service a possible area of collaboration

While the city and county have several existing agreements on services, a formalized ICF will be new, Beaupre said.

Service areas where the city and county already collaborate include water infrastructure through Aquatera, where both are shareholders, she said.

Additionally, both are members of the Grande Spirit Foundation and Peace Library Board.

She also cited the Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership (GPREP) as an example of collaboration.

However, Beaupre said the city and county fire departments don’t respond to each other’s emergencies unless under GPREP.

The city’s fire department isn’t part of the Regional Fire Service and the city and county don’t have mutual aid agreements like those between the county and towns, she said.

During ICF discussions, Beaupre said the city and county discussed greater mutual aid, to improve response times.

Depending on the locations of fires, it may make logistical sense for city halls to respond to county fires and vice versa, she said.

Initial areas where the city and county also had differences included paying for police services, but Beaupre said Municipal Affairs settled that issue with the new police funding formula.

Dollars for roads a point of contention

Road maintenance has also been controversial.

During ICF discussions, she said a point of contention was that city representatives wanted the county to contribute a significant amount toward maintaining city roads.

The idea was that county residents benefit by using city roads to access services like courthouses and eventually Grande Prairie Regional Hospital, she said.

However, Beaupre said the city services benefit the entire region and county representatives felt it was unfair to be asked to contribute the “lion’s share” on behalf of several municipalities.

The city and county have worked with a joint facilitator, the Transitional Solution company, according to the city.

Beaupre said the county is waiting for clarification from Municipal Affairs on the next steps in arbitration.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News