RM of Corman Park Division 5 Councillor Art Pruim speaking to SARM delegates during the resolutions debate at the SARM convention March 14. The SARM convention proceedings were streamed on the SARM YouTube Channel, from which this image was taken. (Gazette photo by Terry Pugh)

Rural elected officials are calling on the province to adopt a common sense approach to road design standards so that more rural municipalities can qualify for funding under the Rural Integrated Roads for Growth (RIRG) program.

Currently, design standards in the RIRG policy manual require roads to be built to essentially the same standard as major highways.

Delegates to the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) convention in Regina March 14 passed a resolution put forward by the RM of Corman Park calling on the provincial government to revisit the RIRG road standards.

Corman Park Division 5 Councillor Art Pruim spoke in favour of the resolution on the convention floor, saying the majority of RMs will never qualify for RIRG funding because the design requirements under the program far exceed the design of existing gravel roads.

“The RM of Corman Park has more than 800 miles of gravel roads to maintain and is seeking funding sources to assist with regular maintenance operations,” said Pruim. “The RIRG program is prohibitive to most of the RM’s gravel roads, as the design requirements are too stringent.”

He noted that while Corman Park is larger than most RMs, its gravel road network is similar to the rest of the province. He advocated lowering the minimum design speed from the current 90 kilometers per hour specified in the RIRG policy manual, reducing the minimum right-of-way required, and lowering the standards for side slope and ditch width. He said lowering the design standards would not compromise safety.

RAW WATER PROJECTS

A resolution put forward at the SARM convention by the RM of Vanscoy commits SARM to lobby the federal and provincial governments to include raw water projects under the eligible project categories for the Canada Community Building Fund (CCBF). The resolution, which was passed by a margin of 89% of votes cast by delegates, would open up the federal-provincial program to cover water-related infrastructure projects that utilize non-potable water for agricultural purposes. Currently, CCBF program funding covers projects that include wastewater and treated potable water.

The RM of Vanscoy council has been discussing the possibility of building a new raw water facility to provide ratepayers with access to the water they need for farming. Drought conditions province-wide over the last few years have focused attention on the need for responsible use, and conservation, of raw water resources.

STAGGERED ELECTIONS

In the future, elections for SARM President and Vice-President will be staggered. Delegates to the SARM convention in Regina voted overwhelmingly to amend the organization’s bylaws to provide greater stability in the top leadership posts. Currently, the President and Vice-President are elected in the same year. Under the new arrangement, the terms would be staggered in the same way as elections for SARM Division Directors.

WOLF CONTROL

Two resolutions pertaining to the growing problem of livestock losses due to predators were passed by SARM delegates at the convention. The first committed SARM to lobby the provincial government to establish a Wolf Reduction Bounty program. Delegates that spoke in favour of the resolution noted the recent increase in the wolf population has resulted in severe losses of beef cattle and calves, particularly in community pastures.

The second resolution called on SARM to lobby Saskatchewan Crop Insurance to review the criteria for livestock losses through Predation Compensation Claims. The purpose of the review would be to come up with a better way to compensate claimants by verifying livestock losses due to predation.

RURAL CRIME

A resolution was passed at the convention calling on the federal and provincial governments to “impose harsher and longer penalties on those convicted” of crimes like theft and vandalism in order “to deter criminals from re-offending.” The resolution was put forward by delegates from the RM of Deer Forks, which has been the victim of multiple break-ins at its facilities over the past two years. “The combined losses have totalled around $47,000,” stated RM officials. “We have installed a security system now and hope it will deter criminals, but footage from around the province proves it may not. In conversations with RCMP officers, they do a lot of work to find and charge people for these crimes just to have the judge let them go or give them a minimal sentence resulting in arresting them over and over for the same crimes.”

EMERGENCY DECLARATIONS

A resolution was passed by delegates calling on SARM to lobby the provincial government to amend the renewal term of a local emergency declaration so it doesn’t need to be renewed at the end of seven days. Currently, under provincial legislation, a local emergency declaration issued by a municipal government expires automatically expires after seven days unless it is renewed. The RM of Loreburn, which sponsored the resolution, said the requirement to renew the declaration weekly is onerous, particularly in the case of a prolonged drought or agricultural disaster such as a severe grasshopper infestation. The RM said allowing the municipality to end the state of emergency when it deems the disaster is over is more efficient and productive.

TAX LOSS COMPENSATION

SARM delegates voted 97% in favour of a resolution put forward by the RM of Fish Creek, which called on SARM to enter into negotiations with the federal and provincial governments to compensate rural municipalities for the loss of tax revenue associated with lands designated under the Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) and Specific Land Claims SLC) order.

A delegate from the RM of Fish Creek told SARM delegates at the convention that several years ago, the federal and provincial governments established the Rural Municipal Tax Loss Compensation Trust Fund to compensate RMs for lost tax revenues resulting from lands that were set apart as reserve under the TLE and SLC Order. In 2023, some RMs received their “final payments” under the Tax Loss Compensation Trust Fund. However, those RMs that no longer receive funding under the compensation trust fund still have to maintain roads and other infrastructure on the TLE and SLC lands within their jurisdiction; despite receiving zero compensation for wages, equipment or gravel.

“We received the final payment in 2023 for our portion of the Tax Loss Fund,” said the delegate from the RM of Fish Creek. “Council is concerned as to how they will manage to maintain the infrastructure without this specific funding. With the sandy soil in the region, the road to one Arrow Reserve needs to be reconstructed. Without further funding, the burden of maintaining this road will be on the entire RM ratepayers.”

He added that road maintenance on the road to One Arrow First Nation is “constant,” in part because of the large numbers of emergency response vehicles that are called to the reserve.

The RM of Fish Creek is not the only RM affected by the loss of revenue from the trust fund. As of August 30, 2017, there were 96 RMs that were beneficiaries of the TLE Trust Fund.