Veer: City will weather next couple of years of austerity

In last month’s column, I highlighted some of the efforts the City has underway to stimulate our local economy and specific measures City Council and administration have undergone to ensure all City operations are responding to the continuing recession and state of our local economy.

The Mackinnon report, recently released by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances on behalf of the provincial government, was not a surprise given the new economic normal, and it is clear we are shifting into an era of provincial austerity. The report made specific recommendations regarding provincial grants to Alberta municipalities, so it is fair to say the city is expecting direct financial impacts to the city’s 10-year capital plan.

The provincial budget will be tabled on Oct. 24, so the city will not have a full understanding of specific impacts to our community until then. City council and administration have, however, already been preparing for a season of provincial austerity, and the city’s capital budget in November and operating budget in January will by necessity reflect the continuing effects of the provincial recession.

Although it is important to reserve judgement until we see the provincial budget details, early indicators make it fair to say that the city will likely need to respond by deferring some capital projects yet to be determined.

With respect to the city’s operating budget, staff are preparing a budget that aligns with council’s Strategic Priorities to ensure we solidify Red Deer as:

• A safe community

• A socially responsible city

• A chosen destination

• An economic leader

• Citizen focused service

City administration has also been tasked to prepare a budget that provides quality, effective services for our citizens, and one that is above all financially sustainable and affordable. To this end, council has also requested that administration find an additional $15 million of operational savings over the next three years to secure tax savings and stability. As part of council’s mandate to bring efficiency to and modernize local government, we have also asked administration to draft three year operating budgets to reduce bureaucracy and to intentionally plan for operational savings, efficiencies and innovations over the next three years.

A delegation from the city also recently met with the Minister of Red Tape Reduction to identify specific initiatives the province could undertake that would be of direct benefit to the citizens of our community, some of which include streamlining of budget process.

We are, no doubt, in a time of uncertainty, but the city remains in very strong financial position, and I am confident we will weather the next couple of years of austerity while still positioning us for a return to a growth economy once again. We remain deeply concerned about the state of our provincial economy, and will continue to do all that we can within municipal powers and authorities to mitigate its local consequences.

I hope this helps to answer some of the questions you may have. As always, it is council’s privilege to serve you, and we look forward to seeing you throughout the community.

Mayor Tara Veer

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