The Issues: City, Town or Something Else?

In the 15 years from 1991 to 2006 Morinville’s population grew from 6,011 to 6,775 0r 764 people in 15 years.

From a 2006 population of 6,775, the population increased to 9,848 in 2016. In that decade, 3,073 more people have moved here, increasing our population by roughly 50%.

As we sit 152 residents shy of the magic 10,000 population needed to apply for city status, the next Council will have a discussion on Morinville’s future status and a decision will likely be made.

Such a decision must not be made lightly.

Last year, I made a request to have Administration prepare a report on the pros and cons of city status as well as what would be required to form a specialized municipality. That detailed report came back to Council Oct. 25.

It was important to me to make sure the next Council had at their disposal detailed information to begin a discussion on Morinville’s future.

Within that report to Council is a report from ISL, which outlines the pros and cons of city status. The data is as follows:

Pros and cons of city status

According to recent research, largely arising from two of the most recent city status investigation reports that have been published (Strathmore’s in 2011 and Stony Plain’s in 2014), some of the key pros and cons of city status are summarized below.

1. Pro: The “city” handle could generate a perception of being “open for business”, resulting in a potential increase in economic development interest.

2. Con: The community and its residents could feel a perceived loss of “small town feel”.

3. Pro: The municipality is perceived to have greater clout in lobbying higher levels of government (being one of 19 cities
rather than one of 107 towns).

4. Con: Costs are associated with changes to the town’s brand on letterheads, signage, fleet vehicles, etc.

5. Con: Cities are typically granted authority for provincial highways within their boundaries, which includes being responsible
for the costs of highway maintenance and upgrades, though there can be some exceptions.

6. Pro: Notwithstanding the above con, authority for provincial highways results in the city gaining the ability to grant
approvals for increased accesses to the highways, as well as signage and landscaping within highway right-of-ways. A
city also has autonomy from the province for subdivision and development approvals in proximity to highways.

7. Pro: Similar to the above, a city has title to all roads within its boundaries, so it can facilitate road closures on its own,
whereas title to roads within towns are vested in the province, meaning all road closure bylaws must receive provincial
blessing before being passed.

8. Con: There is no financial incentive to change from town to city status. As of 2014, not a single grant from upper levels of
government was based on municipal status. One minor financial gain arises through Alberta’s Municipal Sustainability Initiative, in which a portion of the grant is derived from kilometres of municipal roads, but the majority of the grant is derived from population. This financial gain is countered by the costs of highway maintenance and upgrades.

In addition to the above pros and cons, a city is obligated by the City Transportation Act to pass a transportation systems bylaw, which could be perceived as a con due to the cost associated with undertaking the background work to inform and prepare the bylaw.
Overall, the go/no-go decision on whether a town decides to apply for city status most often comes down to one of two issues.

First, is the town willing to take on the costs and responsibilities for maintaining highways that traverse their communities? For Lacombe, it was not until the Province of Alberta committed to four-laning Highway 2A through the community that it pulled the trigger on a city status application.

Second, how does the community want to market itself? Does it want to leverage the perceived economic development benefits of being known as a city, or does it want to brand itself as having a small town atmosphere?

I look forward to returning to Council Chambers this fall and being part of the discussion both in Chambers and with many of you.