Behind the garbage trucks, running taps, flushing toilets and burning light bulbs are the municipalities.
But Alberta’s cities, towns and villages are finding it increasingly difficult to foot the bills for the core services their citizens expect, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Linda Sloan said on Tuesday.
“Currently, municipalities are unable to cover the cost of delivering services,” Sloan told the Red Deer Advocate’s editorial board. “The current system is not sustainable and we need to find a solution.
“We must find a way to provide the services that we use on a daily basis without taking on a mortgage that future generations will have to repay.”
A year ago, the AUMA rolled out the Local Matters campaign and last week a new initiative was launched with radio, print and online messages to educate Albertans about just how much of the daily services they rely on is funded by their municipal governments.
Despite their position as the government closest to residents, municipalities only get somewhere in the range of 10 cents of every tax dollar to pave roads, run transit systems and provide essential services at a time when communities are growing, says the AUMA.
Of the province’s $40-billion budget, only one per cent — 2.6 per cent — comes back to municipalities, said Sloan.
That’s not enough, she said. And it has left municipalities piling on debt and hiking taxes, often resorting to double-digit increases, to make ends meet.
To remedy this, the AUMA wants the provincial government to commit to sitting down at the table and hashing out a new funding agreement and relationship with municipalities.
The AUMA wants that meeting within 60 days following the next provincial election. So far, there has been little reaction from Edmonton.
“We have made that request in writing, but we have not received a response,” Sloan said.
Exactly what needs to be done remains unclear.
Some have proposed that municipalities get back the school taxes they collect on behalf of the province each year, which amounts to about 30 per cent of every property tax bill, or $1.8 billion this year.
Another possibility is providing something along the lines of the Municipal Sustainable Initiative funding municipalities have been getting since 2008, but making it permanent, ongoing and sustainable. Others believe it’s time municipalities had the power to levy taxes besides property taxes.
Sloan said the AUMA isn’t backing any particular solution right now.
“The reality is that we don’t believe we can define or determine that without collaboration, and discussion with negotiation with the province,” she said.
Red Deer city Coun. Cindy Jefferies said it’s time to “put everything on the table and talk about what works best for municipalities and the Province of Alberta going forward for the next 100 years.
“We’ve funded them the way we have many, many years. Let’s look to the future and what’s going to position municipalities to be the strong centres of life that we need them to be for the province of the future.”
Sloan said a better funding deal for municipalities will benefit all Albertans. Stronger municipalities means economic growth for the province.