Budget reaction mixed

Alberta’s first deficit budget in 16 years will financially strain schools, while further spending increases are expected to make life easier for low-income seniors and those in the drilling sector.

Alberta’s first deficit budget in 16 years will financially strain schools, while further spending increases are expected to make life easier for low-income seniors and those in the drilling sector.

Red Deer Public Schools chairman Bill Stuebing touted this provincial budget as probably the most challenging of the past five years.

“This is going to really try the mettle of our principals, administrators and our senior administration to come up with a budget that fits within the limits of the funding and yet minimizes the impact of the learning in the classrooms,” Stuebing said on Tuesday. He’s particularly disappointed the province won’t invest in any new school projects, including the proposed school in Aspen Ridge that Red Deer Public has been wanting to go ahead for the last four years.

“It was supposed to pick up the burgeoning enrollment in the south,” Stuebing said. “With the announcement, there will no new capital development, it means at the very best we could be opening a school in the south three years from now.”

Mary Anne Jablonski, Red Deer North MLA and provincial minister of seniors and community supports, said more lower-income seniors will have access to higher Alberta Senior Benefits.

And the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped is rising by $100.

Central Alberta Cancer Centre in Red Deer will receive money for radiation therapy equipment.

“Being that we’re in tough economic times, there was no new schools announced,” Jablonski said. “I was disappointed to hear that . . . but we are looking after things that we felt are important — health, education and the vulnerable. So we feel people will be OK with the budget.”

Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas said the budget is positive given the global economic circumstances.

“Certainly, there’s a focus on maintaining jobs and creating jobs where we can.”

And money will be invested in well drilling because it will support jobs.

“There will be positive benefits from these government programs, but it’s not the complete answer to the level of activity that we had seen last year and the year before,” Dallas said.

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling said it appears the province is investing in municipal infrastructure.

“I’m not going to go so far as saying they are increasing, but from the very preliminary information I have, they are trying to maintain the level of funding that we’ve had,” Flewwelling said.

He’s also pleased that the government is injecting more money into local, regional and inter-city public transit.

“One of the things we’re actively looking at is a regional transit system where people from Sylvan Lake, Blackfalds, Penhold and Springbrook can access a transportation system that will hook up into Red Deer Transit,” Flewwelling said.

Red Deer Chamber of Commerce president Mike Axworthy said the budget seems to be a good one overall because the province is keeping up with infrastructure spending.

“It will keep the people working and it will take advantage of projects coming in cheaper,” he said. “It will probably help to pull us out of this slump sooner.”

He was glad to see no fuel tax increases as well.

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com

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