Budget ‘good news’ for municipalities

Central Alberta cities hope there’s no devil in the details when they take a fine-tooth comb to the 2013 provincial budget in the coming days.

Central Alberta cities hope there’s no devil in the details when they take a fine-tooth comb to the 2013 provincial budget in the coming days.

At first blush on Thursday, there seemed to be no change in the municipal sustainability initiative, the main source of provincial revenue for municipalities.

Should the numbers remain the same without any new conditions or re-jigged allocations between municipalities, Red Deer will receive $17 million on the capital side and $1 million on the operating end.

“Sometimes we’re surprised with the detail and find out something else two days down the road,” said Red Deer city manager Craig Curtis.

“From the global numbers it is general good news.”

Curtis noted last year the city had a shock with the education tax, which amounted to an eight per cent increase.

The provincial budget calls for a four per cent education tax including growth so it will not likely impact property tax bills in Red Deer.

Municipal budgets were adopted using the status quo numbers but there were concerns the vital funding would be slashed.

Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie raised concerns about reduction to the municipal policing assistance grant. Lacombe is one of seven municipalities in the province that operates its own police service.

“It’s a little concerning to me especially when they increased the contract for (rural policing),” said Christie. “We have to go through it and just drill down into it. That is something that is definitely of concern for us.”

Christie was pleased the Green Transit Incentives Program (GreenTRIP) will continue, which would help the city move forward with its regional transportation plan between Lacombe, Blackfalds and Red Deer.

“We would love to have everything covered but understand the times,” said Christie. “We have to share in the good and the bad. Overall we’re not hugely disappointed but we’re not doing back flips either.”

Red Deer Chamber of Commerce first vice-president Tyler Bowman said the budget is good news for Central Alberta with no increase to personal or corporate taxes. He said the province is moving forward in a sustainable manner by setting up a new contingency fund and spend money on infrastructure in Alberta.

Red Deer-North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski called the budget a fiscally responsible budget that will help build Alberta, pointing to the $5 billion in the capital plan over the next three years.

“We are going to keep building,” she said. “There’s also moves in the budget that will help us live within our means. We’re still going to be looking for new markets for our natural resources.”

Jablonski said there were a number of areas where the government had to take a close look at the spending in order to maintain some of the core programs.

Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas said this budget addresses what Albertans were asking for, particularly during last year’s election and during last fall’s fiscal framework process.

“They were telling us that we needed to spend within our means and we needed to address savings for the province,” said Dallas, Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations.

Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle, however, said it was a disappointing day for Albertans with the province going into debt to borrow.

“I don’t think it is the budget Albertans truly want,” said Towle. “There certainly is going to be a huge impact on education. School boards are going to be hit hard . . . It’s really a sad day for education.”

Towle also noted the concerns over cuts to seniors programs and senior drug benefits, enhanced home care and no commitment from the province to establish an independent seniors advocate, where money was set aside in 2012 for the position.

“This has not been easy, the work that’s been done today,” said Dallas. “But I know that’s what my constituents and I think the people in Central Alberta expect. When we’re faced with a challenge, we’re prepared to be thoughtful, but we’re also prepared to make some very tough decisions.”

When asked about the government borrowing $4.3 billion for new infrastructure, Dallas replied it’s important to address needs, particularly when about 100,000 new people are moving to Alberta each year.

“The challenges around infrastructure are very significant,” said Dallas.

Dallas said there will be changes to some programs and more details will be unveiled next week, but for the most part, they’ve ensured the critical needs of Albertans are being met.