Grande Cache deemed not viable to carry on as a town

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WATCH ABOVE: Residents in Grande Cache have a big choice to make next week: Should the community remain a town or dissolve and become part of the surrounding municipal district? As provincial affairs reporter Tom Vernon explains, with the bills piling up, the local council believes the status quo simply isn't sustainable – Sep 19, 2018

Facing expensive infrastructure needs and a dwindling population, the mayor and council of Grande Cache are asking residents to support a move to dissolve the town and become a hamlet in the Municipal District of Greenview.

“It’s not financially viable going into the future,” Mayor Herb Castle told Global News at a community information session in the community Tuesday afternoon.

The town’s economy is almost entirely reliant on natural resources, with some oil and gas in the region, as well as forestry. The lifeblood of the community is the coal mine. When prices fell a few years ago the mine was closed. It has been reopened, but many residents were forced to move on.

READ MORE: Grande Cache coal mine set to close; more than 200 to lose their jobs

The town’s population has gone from 4,319 in 2012 to 3,571 in 2017. That has decimated housing prices in the community and lowered the tax base to the point where there isn’t enough money to maintain vital infrastructure.

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“We want to do the right thing by our community, and we want to protect the interests of our community, and we believe through all the discussions that we’ve had that we’re doing that,” Castle said.

Residents will get a chance to vote on the proposal on Sept. 24 and 25, with only a simple majority needed to move forward with the plan.

Longtime realtor Theresa Deveaux has been through boom-and-bust cycles in the community before, but says she hasn’t seen one last this long in her 40 years in the community.

“We don’t have a choice right now,” she said of the option to dissolve the town.

READ MORE: Grande Cache coal mine valued at $1B in 2012 sells for $2

The downturn has had a devastating impact on her business, going from more than $11 million in sales a few years ago, to just $1 million last year.

“At one time, I had four full-time realtors, an office manager and a receptionist,” Deveaux said.

This isn’t an uncommon practice in Alberta. Since 2001, residents in 13 communities across Alberta have decided to become part of their surrounding municipality. Two communities made the move in 2017, the Village of Botha dissolved into the County of Stettler, and the Village of Willingdon dissolved into the County of Two Hills.

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If Grande Cache does make the move, it will nearly double the population of the MD of Greenview. The reeve says that will present some financial challenges, but the transition should be relatively smooth.

“Things will just carry on status quo in terms of the maintenance and upkeep, it’s just the administration will take some tweaking,” Dale Gervais said.

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