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County takes on the responsibility for the school trustee election

Two County of Barrhead councillors suggest the municipality and PHSD should split the election training and facility rental cost evenly regardless of the situation
Marvin Schatz, June 1 copy
County of Barrhead deputy reeve Marvin Schatz suggested that the Pembina Hills Public School Division should shoulder the cost of holding the combined trustee/municipal/provincial referendum election equally. Barry Kerton/BL

BARRHEAD-The County of Barrhead will team up with Pembina Hills Public School Division (PHSD) to share the cost and the workload of hosting the municipal election in the fall.

More specifically, the county will take on the lion's share of the workload to conduct PHSD's portion of the municipal election slated for Oct. 18.

Councillors approved a request by PHSD to conduct the trustee election on their behalf during their June 1 meeting.

This year, as part of the municipal election, Albertans will be asked to select their representative for standby Canadian senators and voice their opinion on the federal equalization program through a referendum. The province has also suggested that there might be additional referendum questions as well.

County manager Debbie Oyarzun said under the Local Authorities Act, the municipality can offer its services to the school division.

"This has occurred in the past," she said, adding the school division has asked them to do so again.

In August 2020, PHSD trustees voted to realign their electoral wards, reducing their number from the current seven to six. The school division conducted an extensive review of the wards after Swan Hills Trustee Nancy Keough resigned in 2019. 

Portions of two of the new wards, Pembina Hills West Ward 1 and 2, align themselves with all of the county's divisions.

Pembina Hills West Ward 1 covers Neerlandia Public Christian School and Dunstable School, while Pembina Hills West Ward 2 covers Fort Assiniboine School and Swan Hills.

It is expected that the school division will also ask the Town of Barrhead to host the polling station for those voting for the Barrhead school board trustee (Pembina Hills East) in Ward 3.

Under the agreement, the school division and municipality would be responsible for their portion of the costs of the election.

Oyarzun said there is the possibility that the county will not have to conduct any election services on the school board's behalf as the two trustees could be acclaimed.

Coun. Ron Kleinfeldt asked what it costs the county to conduct the school division's portion of the election.

Oyarzun said that PHSD would be responsible for any costs that are purely the school division’s, such as printing of their ballots and providing trustee ballot boxes.

Any shared resources, such as the training of deputy returning officers and other election officials and facility rentals, would be divided equally, she added.

"We are also getting some compensation, based on population, from the province to conduct the senate and referendum as well," she said. 

Later in the meeting, Oyarzun noted that the provincial contribution would be $14,000.

Coun. Darrell Troock said it would be more equitable to have the school division split the entire cost of the election down the middle.

He then suggested that if the school division did not want to do that, they could hold their own, separate election.

"If that happened, it would be much more difficult and confusing for our residents to vote," Oyarzun replied. "This way they can walk into one polling station and vote for everything at once, public school board trustee, councillor, senator and referendum, instead of traipsing to different facilities, which could be some distance apart."

Deputy reeve Marvin Schatz said he understood Troock's frustration.

"What happens if the school board does not have someone running in one of our divisions? Or if we don't have an election because of an acclamation. We still have to train staff," he said, adding PHSD should have to help shoulder that cost.

Oyarzun argued that the county received funding for the provincial portion of the election.

"All of it? It is not 100 per cent cost recovery," Schatz interjected.

Oyarzun was not sure if the provincial funding would cover the referendum and senator election.

"It may or may not. It depends on population," she said, adding it is difficult to know how much the election will cost the county. "We only hold an election if it is necessary. In the last election, we only had to have one polling station, as only one council position was contested."

Deputy returning officer appointment

Councillors also appointed Oyarzun as the substitute returning officer. On May 18, council named the county manager's administrative assistant Pam Dodds as the municipality's returning officer. 

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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