Blackfalds halts creation of town-operated registry office

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The Town of Blackfalds won’t be opening up its own registry office, afterall.

At their regular meeting Tuesday, town council voted 6-1 in favour of deferring the creation of a municipally controlled corporation for the purpose of opening a registry office within the Civic Cultural Centre.

The decision was made in light of a number of concerns, including parking, changing estimates from Service Alberta on when the town would break even on operating such a business, as well as a new option of the private sector operating a satellite registry within the community. Still, it wasn’t one council made easily.

“It’s been a frustrating roller coaster ride with this topic,” Coun. Ray Olfert said, noting bringing a registry office to town has been an active topic on two previous councils as well. “We get stonewalled at every turn and every question to find that just over a year ago, this option shows up.

“Now, at the 11th hour, we’re getting a third option of what we could possibly do and still no reconciliation of how they’re getting their data, how they’re getting their numbers.”

Blackfalds  has been lobbying Service Alberta for a registry office for the better part of the past nine years. While they’re identified as being at the top of the priority list for registry services, the town has sat there for several years and there still is no definite timeline for when Service Alberta would send out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to find a party interested in opening such a service. At the time, indications from the Blackfalds Chamber of Commerce and local businesses were there were no interested parties.

However, last summer, the town was presented with the option of opening a registry as a municipally-controlled corporation. The proposal would allow the town to bypass the 18-month RFP process to expedite bringing registry services to the community, and incubate the service for interested parties down the road.

Council approved the proposal and developed a business plan, however, while the public was in favour of having such a service, there were a lot of concerns, including from the owners of Lacombe Registries and One Stop Licence Shop in Red Deer who both said Service Alberta’s estimations were off, and estimated themselves that the town could be on the hook for $1-million in several years.

Some of the concerns were echoed by council Tuesday.

Coun. Laura Svab said the proposed 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday business hours were an issue for her and would create a “huge financial loss,” given 50 per cent of the community leaves town for work. In order to expand hours of operation, modifications would need to be made to the Civic Cultural Centre’s lobby so the rest of the building not open for business, so to speak, could be cordoned off.

Location was also a concern with a number of councillors and residents, who felt the civic centre wasn’t visible enough, nor provided adequate parking for its operation.

Then there was new estimates from Service Alberta on when the town would start to profit off the business. Originally, they were told they’d break even in year three, and as of Tuesday, that estimate had shifted to Year 5.

“Service Alberta reassured us that we would be making a profit off this, and it would be incubator ready for another company to come in and take over if we had someone locally who wanted to,” said Coun. Rebecca Stendie. “The new numbers don’t align. That, to me, says that there is more risk than potential at this point.”

While opening a registry service is off the table for now, indications by the Alberta Registries Association is there would be companies interested in operating such a business within the community, including perhaps as a satellite model. It is possible Service Alberta may look at sending out an RFP sometime in the summer, but there is no guarantee they will do so.

Still, council agreed the process was by no means a waste of time.

“We’ve created an enormous amount of interest,” said Coun. Will Taylor. “Something changed about this and something will still come out of this.”

Only Mayor Richard Poole voted against.