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Leduc County residents get ready for a fight over annexation plans

(WATCH: Formal negotiations with Edmonton have yet to start, but already, Leduc County is preparing for a fight. Kendra Slugoski reports.)

EDMONTON – The formal negotiations with Edmonton haven’t even started, but many land and business owners in Leduc County are ready to put up a fight.

The City of Edmonton says it’s running out of room to grow, and wants to annex about 38,000 acres of land in Leduc County, including the Edmonton International Airport. Those living and working in the county say if Edmonton takes over the land, taxes could double.

“It’s a damn frustrating process and it’s going to cost us a lot of time and money before we get to the end,” says Leduc County mayor John Whaley.

READ MORE: Leduc County Mayor says region won’t give up land without a fight 

Currently, Edmonton homeowners pay 69 per cent more than those in Leduc County. Edmonton mayor Don Iveson says, if approved, the new tax base would be phased in.

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“That’s one of the landowners’ concerns we’ve certainly heard: are my taxes going to jump up to city taxes overnight? That’s never happened to any annexation that I’m aware of.”

“It’s quite common for there to be grandfathering provisions.”

Iveson says the last major annexation by the city in the northeast saw taxes grandfathered in over 30 years.

“You might not pay it now but you’re going to pay it later down the road,” says Clarence Shields with the Leduc County Coalition. “We believe that there should be a plan in place where both parties benefit from the growth in this region.”

If the annexation goes through, Leduc County could lose 20 per cent of its tax base.

“They’re either going to increases taxes or decrease services,” says Shields. “I don’t think there are many organizations or counties that are going to reduce your services.”

Leduc County business owners met Wednesday afternoon for an update. One attendee described Edmonton as a bully.

READ MORE: Alberta MLA calls Edmonton’s annexation bid ‘hostile’ 

“You have to justify that ask of land to the municipal government board,” explains Whaley. “They haven’t done that to us or anybody else yet. We’re now 20 months into the process and people are starting to get frustrated.

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“Why hasn’t Edmonton given us anything that justifies what they’re asking for?”

The proposed annexation also stretches east into Nisku and the Town of Beaumont.

“Compromise is the name of the game,” says Whaley. “That’s what annexation usually is. How soon we get to that level – is it six months, six years – I don’t know.”

Iveson says he hopes a deal doesn’t take five years to negotiate. So far, meetings between the two regions have set a negotiation protocol to guide the process moving forward.

“We also have our facilitators in place and a couple of great municipal experts with deep knowledge of the issues who will be able to help us work through the process, hopefully in a timely fashion for land owners who are waiting to see what happens.”

“We don’t want that to take forever,” Iveson adds.

The first meeting between administrators to start formal negotiations is scheduled for December.

With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News