Town wants out, county wants more

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Big Lakes County and the Town of High Prairie are negotiating how much each should pay to operate the High Prairie Airport.

So far, they have agreed to disagree.

Under the current agreement, the Town pays 10 per cent and the county 90 per cent. In 2018, the Town’s share was $20,151.54.

On Aug. 26, the Town approved a motion to “relinquish any involvement with the High Prairie Airport so that Big Lakes County has 100 per cent control of all capital projects and operations.”

However, a report to town council at its Sept. 10 meeting from CAO Brian Martinson said the County was surprised the Town wanted out. A motion from the Inter-municipal Collaborative Framework – Airport meeting is now asking the Town to contribute 25 per cent, or an estimated $25,000.

Most of town council is very cool to the proposal.

“I am for giving them 100 per cent control of everything,” said Councillor Brian Gilroy, citing a relief to town taxpayers.

Martinson replied the county did not want total control because the airport “benefits both”.

Councillor Michael Long was more precise.

“We can’t afford it, period. They can have it. They wanted it, give it to them.”

The County took control of the airport in 2016.

Martinson told council they budgeted $30,000 for airport operations this year.

Mayor Brian Panasiuk was the only member of council to speak in favor of the County’s proposal. He cited the fact the two parties partner 50-50 on most services.

Long repeated his stance, “We can’t afford it. They can’t see we gave them a multi-million facility.”

Long scoffed at paying 10 per cent and having virtually no say on the County dominated committee.

“I guess their perception is, ‘Let’s work together,’” said Panasiuk.

Councillor Arlen Quartly asked Panasiuk if he supported the County’s stand.

“Yes, it’s not costing us any more money,” he said. “I think it’s a good will gesture.”

“Twenty-five per cent,” replied Quartly. “I thought it was high at 90-10. I don’t like it. I don’t think we should be spending money out there.”

Councillor Judy Stenhouse was also opposed saying there was no hard figure of what it would cost the Town. Panasiuk countered by saying the same existed with the recreation and library board budget, but the other way around.

Gilroy suggested to stay out of any agreement, adding perhaps the county could just take the money off the $800,000 grant they give the Town each year.

“I think we should stick to our guns on this one.”

Long agreed.

“It comes down, they wanted the airport and we gave it to them. They have the deep pockets to run this thing.”

Years ago, the two governments split operations costs 50-50.

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