If the overwhelming sentiment at the Donalda public meeting is any indication, the village will live to see its centennial two years from now.
“This is a dog and pony show,” said Donalda resident John White during the question and answer session of Tuesday’s meeting. “Why are we here? What is the damning evidence the Minister found that would call for dissolution? Did he find worms in the cabbage patch or something?”
There were no immediate answers for White’s questions from provincial representatives. In February 2009, a petition was filed with the Minister of Municipal Affairs signed by a number of village residents asking for an inquiry into the affairs of village council and the chief administrative officer. But Goudreau determined that an inspection carried out in 2003 was sufficient and instead ordered a dissolution study be undertaken for the village. That came as a shock to council and everyone else in the community.
White says he signed the petition calling for an inquiry, but would never have signed it if he thought it would lead to the dissolution of the village.
“It had nothing to do with dissolution,” he said. “I consider this all a waste of time.”
Lorrie Shepherd, a Donalda resident who started the petition calling for the inquiry, says her issue is with the village’s handling of a lot she purchased that has yet to be subdivided.
“I didn’t want it to come back as a dissolution study. I’d like to keep the community but I don’t want the same council or CAO, I want to get rid of them,” she said. “I don’t think Municipal Affairs listened to what we wanted. In a way, I feel they let us down by doing a dissolution study and not looking into what happened with this lot beside us.”
The whole issue of dissolution has been a burden on the village, says Mayor Terry Nordahl.
“It is frustrating,” she said after the meeting last Tuesday. “It’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure on us; the village – not just the CAO and council – but the residents. They’re all nervous and fearful, I think. It’s sad.”
Nordahl added she doesn’t understand why the province ordered a dissolution study for the village, considering it is sustainable. Council is currently working on a number of initiatives that include a federal grant to bring the train back to town as well as a new eight unit property development. A new fire hall was recently constructed in the village. Financial figures provided by Municipal Affairs shows the community in good financial position, ranking amongst the lowest in taxes for comparably sized communities, with a high level of services.
“It was just a total shock,” Nordahl said.
Nobody at the Donalda public meeting of around 80 voiced support for dissolving the village. That bodes well for the public vote on dissolution this Tuesday, Nordahl says.
“I still believe that most people know the best thing is to remain a village even if there are some things that aren’t quite perfect,” she said. “Nothing’s perfect in the world so we go with what we have and work to make it better.”
Both sides of the dissolution issue were more evenly represented in Gadsby last Wednesday night at the public meeting held in the old Bank building. Most of the village’s 28 or so residents showed up to express their feelings around the issue that has polarized the small community.
A petition calling for dissolution was circulated in the community last spring and presented to Municipal Affairs in May 2009, prompting Goudreau to initiate a dissolution study. But Gadsby resident Kerri Pothier says her name and her husband’s were collected for the petition under false pretenses.
“It was fraudulently done,” she said, adding that she thought she was signing a form that would notify her of a meeting between the village and the County of Stettler regarding the effects of dissolution at some point.
“I’m against how this began and I don’t believe we’ll receive the same amount of services, I don’t believe we’ll receive the same representation [if we dissolve],” she said. “We’ve been working hard as a village to get grant money for a sewer system. Other municipalities who have dissolved into the county were promised low taxes but when the sewer was put in, such enormous amounts were charged against everybody’s taxes, that they couldn’t afford it.”
A lot of residents at the meeting expressed frustration that Municipal Affairs ordered the dissolution study without verifying the dozen names on the petition.
“It’s just a few shit disturbers causing the problems,” said one resident during a break in the meeting.
One of those shit disturbers is Gadsby resident Jeff Bruinsma, who helped start the petition calling for dissolution over what he sees as unfair practices by council.
“It’s been managed extremely poorly for 20 years or so,” he said. “The taxes are all over the place now. My taxes went up 25 per cent one year, another year they went up 20 per cent. That’s 45 per cent in two years, whereas other people we’re probably getting tax deductions. There’s no fairness to anything going on in this town.
“Once we’re county, at least we’re all on fair ground.”
Gadsby Mayor Fred Entwisle says he is still undecided how he’ll vote this Wednesday in the plebiscite that looks like it could go either way.
“If some of these things in here are as true as they are on paper it might not be a bad idea,” he said. “I’m still up in the air. It depends how much pumping our sewers out is gonna cost and if it takes them a couple years to put the sewer in.”
Village council has been in talks with the province about grants to cover installing a sewer system that could mean savings for residents currently pumping out sewage with a truck.
Whatever the outcome of the vote on Wednesday, Entwisle says there is a rift in the community that might be difficult to mend.
“I hope we can bury the hatchet on some of the stuff that’s going on and get moving forward with being a unified community again,” he said. “I hope there’s a way to repair it ... but I don’t know.”
Non-binding plebiscites will be held this Tuesday in Donalda at the Coulee Friendship Club and Wednesday in Gadsby at the Bank Building from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.