‘People have really picked sides’: Cottagers, farmers in political power struggle over small Saskatchewan municipality

Cottagers are enraged and farmers fear they’ll be subjected to retribution as a rural municipal council in Saskatchewan drags its feet on recognizing the result of a vote to redraw the area’s century-old electoral boundaries.

Few people are happy with the current state of affairs in McKillop, a collection of townships north of Regina where out-of-towners who summer in waterfront homes comprise the majority of eligible voters. That reality isn’t reflected in the electoral map, under which residents of a small but populous ward near Last Mountain Lake have the same representation as a large agricultural district with one-tenth the population.

The thousand or so people who live seasonally at cottages and mansions in McKillop were already riled by council’s decision this summer to abruptly raise property taxes on residential units across the municipality. In some cases, property owners saw their bill double or triple from the previous year, while farms were hit with only slight increases.

With the tax flap front of mind, 73 per cent of McKillop taxpayers voted two weeks ago to modify the Regional Municipality’s six-district electoral map and, in effect, give lakeside property owners greater say on council. But instead of immediately asking the province to approve the changes, council is waiting until the end of the month to conduct further public consultation.

“People have really picked sides,” said Howard Arndt, who presides over council as reeve. “I’m not sure it’s going to get better right away.”

Officially, 732 people live in McKillop year-round; many are farmers spread across a wide swath of prairie land, from the town of Bulyea in the east to the shores of Last Mountain Lake in the west. The development of seasonal properties along the lake, a process that Arndt said accelerated rapidly in the 2000s, brings scores of out-of-towners to McKillop each year and has allowed the voter roll to swell closer to 1,800.

Arndt said the coexistence of urbanites and farmers in McKillop has always been somewhat fraught. Some cottagers don’t like the smell of dairy cows wafting into their homes or the sound of machines operating on the weekend. Some farmers disdain the idea of paying higher taxes to subsidize winter road maintenance when they can clear their own lots themselves.

While full-time lakeside residents have joined cottagers in pushing for greater influence on council, proponents of McKillop’s old electoral map, established in the early 1900s, see the proposed boundary changes as a threat to agriculture.

Brent Johnson, the founder of a lobby group for local farmers, said he’s concerned that cottagers aggrieved by council’s property tax increase could seek revenge on the agricultural community by taxing farmers on initiatives that wouldn’t benefit them, such as road maintenance. Rather than approving the new map, he said, the province could consider granting self-governance to the resort hamlets that line the lake, which would allow McKillop’s farming districts, in turn, to merge with neighbouring RMs.

“No one really, understandably, wants to have an urban area be in control of the rural area,” Johnson said. “People who don’t reside …read more

Source:: Nationalpost – News


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