Hythe residents will vote on whether to remain a village or become a County of Grande Prairie hamlet March 30 and 31. (Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
HYTHE – It may be an emotional decision, but Hythe mayor Brian Peterson is recommending residents choose to dissolve the village at a vote to be held at the end of March.
The vote, to be held March 30 and 31, comes after a viability review requested April 2020 by the village and since completed by Alberta Municipal Affairs.
If the village is dissolved, it will become part of the County of Grande Prairie.
At the end of the month, Hythe residents will vote on two choices – to remain a village, or dissolve.
“I encourage people to vote for option two – becoming part of the county,” Hythe mayor Brian Peterson told the News.
“When council made the decision to move into the dissolution process, that was not an easy decision – there was an emotional part of it we had to get by, (but) the logical reasoning was easy.
“If (voters) decide to stay a village (option one), I’ll respect that decision and work to make things as good as we can in Hythe.”
According to the viability report unveiled this month, the municipal affairs minister Ric McIver concluded the “current state” of Hythe must improve for it to remain a village.
Infrastructure deficiencies in particular need to be addressed, according to the report.
In a letter to residents, mayor Peterson wrote that a 150 per cent tax increase would be needed to meet capital and operational needs if Hythe remains a village.
According to Peterson’s letter, a property worth $100,000 was taxed $823.90 in 2020 and would be taxed $2,059.75 if the village opted to retain its status.
“For me, it’s an easy decision,” Peterson said.
“There’s no reasonable way out for us – a 150 per cent tax increase, to me, is not reasonable or sustainable.”
If Hythe becomes a part of the county, county tax rates apply but county council can impose extra fees for programs or infrastructure that benefit the hamlet exclusively, according to the viability report.
In his letter to residents, Peterson also cited anticipated Municipal Sustainability Initiative cuts of 25 per cent over the next three years as a concern.
Additionally, property tax assessment values dropped 10 per cent this year, he wrote. Peterson told the News the drop was “shocking,” and the cause is unknown.
Despite the emotional nature of dissolution, Peterson said the hamlet would be largely unchanged as a community.
“If you think of it, Hythe has never been a community of just the people within the borders of Hythe,” he said.
“Hythe has always been a community based on the people in the town and around the town.”
Hythe’s governance would change
The new hamlet would become part of the county’s electoral Division 7, according to the report. The current Division 7 councillor is Linda Waddy.
The next municipal election will be in October and Peterson expects dissolution would occur before then.
“It’s very important Hythe residents look closely at who they have to run for county council,” he said.
Reflecting on Hythe found itself in its current situation, Peterson said the causes may stretch back 30 years.
“We slowly lost our commercial businesses like elevators and the car dealership, and the government slowly paid less and less for its property and slowly took away grants,” Peterson said.
The expansion of Grande Prairie car dealerships and the rise of Walmart and Costco contributed to the loss of village businesses, he added
Hythe was settled in 1909 and was part of the now-defunct Improvement District No. 722 before achieving village status in 1929.
Residents can attend an online information session March 23 with Peterson and Municipal Affairs staff by going to www.alberta.ca/viability-reviews-for-municipalities.aspx.
Alternatively, they can call 1-587-328-109 with the meeting ID 93272883377 and passcode 003694.
The session runs 7 to 9 p.m.
The vote will take place at the Hythe Legion March 30 from 4 to 8 p.m. and March 31 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mail-in ballots will also be available through returning officer Marnie Lee by calling 310-0000, then 780-427-2225, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
To vote, a resident will need proof of identity and current residence, such as a government-issued photo ID, bank statement, pension plan statement, residential lease or utility bill.
This will be the first local vote during the COVID pandemic. Masks and social distancing will be mandatory.
According to Municipal Affairs, if residents vote against dissolution their say would be final.
Conversely, if they vote in favour of dissolution that decision is binding on the Municipal Affairs minister in recommending a course of action to the Alberta government.
Following the minister’s recommendation it is the provincial cabinet’s decision as to whether to dissolve the village.
By Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Town & Country News