Two neighbouring towns have begun negotiations after hiring a two-year-old Calgary firm to help guide them through the process of amalgamation.
The Towns of Black Diamond and Turner Valley hired Maven Strategy at a cost of $73,000 to facilitate negotiations in the amalgamation process, assist the Friendship Agreement Committee with public consultation and provide guidance to the committee and its subcommittees over the next year.
The subcommittees established are determined by the Municipal Government Act to address such topics as emergency services, as well as by members of the Friendship Agreement Committee, which consists of councillors from both towns, said Todd Sharpe, Turner Valley chief administrative officer.
“Maven will facilitate the discussion and help get us to the finish line,” said Sharpe. “They will help us develop the final report.”
The Towns posted a bid for facilitators to assist with the negotiation process after submitting a letter to Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard last month, informing her of their intent to formally enter into amalgamation negotiations.
Sharpe said Maven Strategy was selected based on the company’s experience with facilitation, negotiation, public consultation and communication and inter-municipal work.
He said Maven’s was one of eight bids received. The winner was selected based on a number of criteria and using weighted evaluation tools, he said.
“There are a lot of groups across the province that are interested in working with us on this because it’s so unique and such a forward-thinking project,” said Sharpe. “The calibre of the applicants was very high.”
With a goal of submitting the application for amalgamation to Allard in September 2021, Sharpe said the next 11 months will be spent discussing such negotiable items as whether or not to establish different tax rates for residents living in Black Diamond versus Turner Valley until the two get on even footing and how to handle the fact that Turner Valley uses local improvement levies (a special tax residents in certain areas who might benefit from improvements must pay) for some of its infrastructure requirements while Black Diamond does not.
“There’s certain mandatory negotiable items and other transitional items we have to deliver to the minister,” he said. “For example, a mandatory item we need to discuss and agree to is, where will the municipal office be? Are we going to have a ward electoral or general electoral system? Are we going to be a town or a city? What’s the name going to be?”
Sharpe said negotiations will also address what the 2021 municipal election will look like if the negotiations aren’t complete by then and any employer labour agreements that must be dealt with and how to handle those situations post-amalgamation.
Sharpe said transition items like finances, staffing, service levels, bylaws, tax rates and staff will be left to administration and the new council post amalgamation.
In the meantime, negotiations will take place during the monthly Friendship Agreement Committee meetings the second Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Flare ‘n’ Derrick Community Hall.
The hall won’t be open to the public. Sharpe said the meetings will be livestreamed on Turner Valley’s website.
“A lot of times we will move into closed session,” he said. “It’s much more convenient for residents to be able to tune in and then turn off when we go into closed session.”
Sharpe said most of the negotiations will be closed to the public as there will be many “sensitive conversations to protect privacy.”
“What can be in open session should and will be, but the bulk of the negotiations will be in closed,” he said. “Sometimes the conversations get very in-depth and intimate and the committee needs to know it has the level of comfort and safety in having critical conversations with each other.
“For example, there might be conversations around tax treatments, service level… assessments or employee and labour agreements. These are all matters that need to be discussed, negotiated and included in the report, but for privacy reasons they can’t be held in public.”
Sharpe said decisions coming out of the negotiations will be made public.
“We’re going to use Maven Strategy to help us develop a communication plan and key messages in communicating with the public as the process progresses,” he said.
He added that citizens will have a chance to contribute to the process, but that the committee doesn’t know what that will look like yet.
“We’re in the process of developing our communication plan and public participation plan,” he said. “The public can rest assured that it is coming. We’re just getting started.”