Friday, October 27, 2017

Municipal Government Act updated

Recognizing the proclamation of the Municipal Government Act: Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association President Lisa Holmes, Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties President Al Kemmere.  (Government of Alberta photo) 

Chris Davis, from documents - The Government of Alberta yesterday announced the final stage of a three part process to update the Municipal Goverment Act (MGA) is complete now that the An Act to Strengthen Municipal Government has been proclaimed as law.  The MGA guides how municipalities operate and provide services to their citizens.  This final step in the process occurs just after province-wide municipal elections, and has been anticipated by the administrations and incumbent elected officials of both Pincher Creek councils.

Amendments to the MGA were made through three bills passed by the legislature since 2015: the Municipal Government Amendment Act (2015), the Modernized Municipal Government Act (2016), and An Act to Strengthen Municipal Government (2017).  Provisions of the act will come into force in phases, with some happening immediately and others becoming effective on January 1, 2018 and in April 2018.  The MGA contains 710 sections and is the second-largest piece of legislation in the province.

According to the government's press release, changes to the MGA include allowing parental leave for municipal councillors, requiring training to be offered to municipal councillors, the provincial ombudsman providing oversight of municipalities, more accountability and transparency, a more consistent municipal revenue framework, and collaborative inter-municipal regional planning and growth management boards.

According to Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson, “The last time the laws that guide municipalities were extensively updated was in 1995. At that time, fewer than one in 10 Canadians had a cellphone and the Baltimore Stallions won the Grey Cup. A lot has changed since then, including the needs of our communities. I am proud of the work we’ve done with local governments and stakeholders to modernize the MGA. This updated piece of legislation provides municipalities the tools and resources they need to build strong communities and make lives better for Albertans.”

“Albertans expect provincial and municipal governments to work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for communities. I am particularly proud of how AUMA and AAMDC came together to advocate for our members, and I believe this relationship speaks to the spirit of inter-municipal collaboration contained within the new MGA.” -  Alberta Urban Municipalities Association President Lisa Holmes

“The hard work of the last five years by Municipal Affairs, AAMDC, AUMA and many other committed associations and industries has resulted in legislation that focuses on collaboration. We came to the table with goodwill and we will move forward with those same intentions. However, the work doesn't end here. As this legislation rolls out, AAMDC will continue to monitor the impact and advocate that the Modernized Municipal Government Act continues to meet the changing needs of rural Alberta.” - Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties President Al Kemmere

Changes to the MGA include, in part:

  • Municipalities are required to adopt, at minimum, three-year operating plans and five-year capital plans, so Albertans have greater access to information about municipal financial decisions.
  • Municipalities must implement mandatory regional planning mechanisms for land-use planning, and will be required to work together on service delivery and cost-sharing.
  • Municipalities are able to establish for-profit corporations without the requirement for ministerial approval.
  • All municipalities, no matter their population, will be required to create a municipal development plan.
  • Planning documentation is required to be more transparent.
  • The existing timelines for applications and decisions on subdivision and development permits will be amended to provide more flexibility. A new provision will be added to give time to municipalities to review an application to ensure all the necessary documentation has been submitted and for applicants to provide supplemental documents to complete an application. 
  • Municipalities will have the flexibility to include inclusionary (affordable) housing as an option within their land-use bylaws.
  • Municipalities will be provided with increased flexibility to use a reserve land assembly area contribution structure that would support land dedication and development parameters with respect to assembly of parks and school sites, including through a regulation.
  • The MGA creates a new type of reserve, called Conservation Reserve, to protect environmentally significant lands such as wildlife corridors, significant tree stands or other environmentally significant features municipalities may wish to conserve. Municipalities will have to provide appropriate compensation to developers for Conservation Reserve, since the land will be set aside and protected instead of developed. The new Act will also provide clearer definitions and purposes for lands deemed Environment Reserve, and tools to determine the reserve boundaries earlier in the planning process to help in development. Municipalities will be allowed to include policies addressing Conservation Reserves in municipal development plans and area structure plans. Municipalities will also be allowed to dispose of Conservation Reserve lands through a public process when substantive changes occur that eliminate the land’s conservation value.
  • Growth Management Boards and related plans for the City of Edmonton and City of Calgary regions will be mandatory to address land-use planning, servicing of growth, regional service delivery, cost sharing, and dispute resolution.
  • Municipalities are allowed to invite neighbouring indigenous communities to collaborate on future regional service delivery and enter into agreements with them. Municipalities will also be required to notify neighbouring indigenous communities of any new municipal development plans or area structure plans.
  • Additional options will be available to the Minister in the rare instances where municipal non-compliance has reached the level of last resort. These options include ministerial authority to suspend the authority of council to make bylaws, to exercise bylaw-making authority, and to withhold monies otherwise payable to a municipality. The Act includes additional restrictions on how the Minister may be able to apply these options, including a 14 days’ notice period to the municipality, to ensure these powers are used only as a last resort.
  • The mandate of the Alberta Ombudsman has been expanded to include municipalities. The MGA will also be amended to clarify petitioning processes for municipal inspections.
  • Municipal councillors are prohibited from forming the majority of any legislated appeal board hearing panel.
  • Municipalities are required to adopt public participation policies that outline their approaches for engaging with stakeholders.
  • Municipalities are required to develop and adopt codes of conduct that meet various established standards, that address enforcement and administrative procedures at the municipal level, and that do not allow councils to remove councillors from office.
  • MGA amendments clarify the process required when a council or council committee closes a meeting or portion of a meeting to the public.
  • Municipalities may, by bylaw, choose to decrease the required percentage of eligible signatories, accept online petitions, extend the time period for collecting signatures and allow petitioners to recall their signatures. Timelines would be extended for petition validation.
  • Municipalities are now allowed to post notifications to their websites to fulfill general advertising requirements, and will have the flexibility to pass a bylaw specifying how they will notify the public. Certain municipal matters will continue to require public notification in legislation, such as those related to bylaws and taxation, but municipalities now have more flexibility to determine the methods they use to notify the public.
  • Administrative duties and the chief administrative officer’s ability to delegate have been clarified.
  • Municipalities are able to provide for extended councillor parental leave by bylaw.
  • Municipalities are not able to pass bylaws that conflict with provincial legislation on environmental matters.
  • School boards will be exempt from paying off-site levies on public school site lands for school building projects.
  •  Mandatory joint use and planning agreements (JUPA) will be required between municipalities and school boards, through amendments to the MGA and the School Act.
  • Municipalities will be required to offer orientation training within 90 days to elected officials following each municipal election and by-elections on specific matters such as: role of municipalities in Alberta; council and councillor roles and responsibilities; Chief Administrative Officer and staff roles and responsibilities; and budgeting and financial administration.
  • Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB) members and clerks will undergo mandatory training based on a standard curriculum, delivered locally, regionally or by the Province.
  • A streamlined voluntary amalgamation process is included in the MGA. Summer villages with non-contiguous boundaries may amalgamate if they share a common body of water, and retain their status as a summer village.
  • The municipality initiating an amalgamation or annexation will be required to notify all local authorities operating or providing services within the affected municipalities. For the purposes of an amalgamation, the notice must also include proposals for consultation with all local authorities operating or providing services within the affected municipalities. The municipality initiating an annexation will also be required to notify the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
  • The scope of off-site levies will be expanded so municipalities can use the funds to build community recreation facilities, fire halls, police stations and libraries. Developers would contribute costs based on that proportional benefit, while municipalities will fund the rest through general revenue.  A dispute resolution mechanism will be created and available to deal with any disputes around off-site levies on the expanded infrastructure.
  • Municipalities will be able to charge, by bylaw, for municipal road projects that connect to or improve the connection to provincial highways; and require municipal statutory plans within 1.6 km of a provincial highway, to be referred to the Minister of Transportation for review.
  • Municipalities will be able to jointly create off-site levy bylaws for projects that benefit portions of two or more municipalities, including the expanded uses introduced in the MMGA and the ASMG (libraries, police stations, fire halls, community recreation facilities, connection of a municipal road to a provincial highway).
  • Current land-use policies will continue to be phased out of force as new regional plans under the Alberta Land Stewardship Act come into force. The MGA will provide the authority, through regulation, to create land-use policies for municipal planning matters that are not included in a regional plan under the Alberta Land Stewardship Act.
  • Municipalities will be allowed to grant multi-year tax exemptions, deferrals or reductions as a means of incentivising cleanup and redevelopment.
  • The highest non-residential tax rate can be no more than five times the lowest residential tax rate.
  • Property held by a provincial agency will be taxable for the purposes of property taxation.
  • Designated industrial property assessment will be the responsibility of the province beginning in 2018.
  • All farm buildings in urban and rural municipalities will not be assessed or charged municipal or education property taxes.
  • Farmland will continue to be assessed as farmland until it is no longer used for farming operations.
  • Composite Assessment Review Boards will hear complaints about business taxes, as well as levies on business improvement areas. These boards will also be able to award costs to participants when appropriate.
  • Assessor will be able to make corrections to assessments under complaint without needing ratification from the assessment review board or having the complaint withdrawn first.
  • Assessment Review Board decisions may be appealed at Court of Queen’s Bench by judicial review only.
  •  Municipalities and the provincial assessor will be required to set a “notice of assessment date” between January 1 and July 1; and mail the assessment notices seven days prior to the “notice of assessment date”.
  • The MGA clarifies the process to be followed if an assessment that is under complaint is amended.
Related link: What's Changing

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