Municipalities speak out about sewer line funding cap
A provincial decision to cap funding for a regional sewer line continues to rankle municipal leaders who feel they were shortchanged.
Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling says in a statement released earlier this week he is “extremely disappointed” that the province would not fully fund its portion of the Olds-to-Red Deer sewer line, expected to cost around $130 million.
The sewer line was originally expected to cost $107 million and under the Alberta government’s Water for Life Strategy was to be funded 90 per cent by the province and 10 per cent by municipalities.
Since construction started in 2009, costs have climbed because of inflation, route changes and a decision to stretch the build out over more years.
Transportation Minister Ric McIver recently offered the South Red Deer Regional Wastewater Commission, which is overseeing construction of the line, $10 million towards its completion.
The offer was rejected, with the commission arguing it falls about $10 million short of the original commitment, leaving municipalities to pick up the slack.
“It was understood that the province had committed that the overruns would be covered under the 90/10 arrangement, and while we recognize that this decision is being made in a year when provincial budgets are tight, it sends a strong message about how agreements might be upheld into tight fiscal times,” says Flewwelling.
If the regional line is not built, communities may opt to build their own wastewater treatment plants on the river, a prospect the line was meant to avoid.
The City of Red Deer plans to lobby all seven Central Alberta MLAs for support.
Innisfail Mayor Jim Romane also voiced his unhappiness with the latest offer.
Building a regional sewer line was the province’s idea, he points out.
“The communities were forced into this whole thing by (Alberta Environment) and now they’re trying to just dump it back into our laps here.
We just can’t stand for that.”
Province budgets may be tight, but so are everyone else’s, he said.
“All the communities are in the same situation as the province. We’re ongoing trying to balance our budgets every year and keep our tax increases to a minimum.
“We just don’t need these kinds of surprises.”
Opposition MLA Kerry Towle is not surprised the province appears to be backing out of its commitment.
“We’re seeing a lot of that in this budget,” said Towle, who represents the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake riding.
Promises made to seniors, and related to health care and education are also being abandoned, she said.
Municipalities are already struggling to fund their infrastructure and passing on more costs won’t help.
“They’re putting adding pressure on municipalities. There’s only one taxpayer.”
Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas said he understands the commission’s concerns but questions the accusation the province has not followed through on its commitment.
The Alberta government fully funded its 90 per cent share — $96 million — of the original $107 million. More money was provided on top of that when construction estimates rose.
However, costs continued to rise and more money was requested. The minister then offered an additional $10 million as an “act of good faith,” said Dallas, who is also Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations.
He will encourage the commission and the minister to meet to discuss options.
The question of the scope of the province’s commitment will no doubt be “part of the conversation” between the minister and the commission, he said.