City wary about new funds; wants to see provincial budget

Local municipal officials are waiting until the provincial budget is released before declaring a boost to capital project funding a win for Red Deer.

BY CRYSTAL RHYNO

Advocate staff

Local municipal officials are waiting until the provincial budget is released before declaring a boost to capital project funding a win for Red Deer.

In Red Deer on Friday, Diana McQueen, the minister of Municipal Affairs, announced a $400 million boost to the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, bringing the total funding to $1.6 billion for 2014-2015.

In 2014, Red Deer received $24.1 million in MSI funding, including $6 million from the basic municipal transportation grant that was rolled into the envelope.

MSI funding is earmarked for infrastructure projects, including water and sewer, bridges and roads.

McQueen said the province is preparing for some tough budgets over the next few years due to the drop in oil prices.

But she said she has heard consistent messages from municipalities about the importance of infrastructure and the need for the continued funding for local projects.

“Our government shares your concern,” said McQueen at the press conference. “We agree that strategic infrastructure investments will not only ensure that Albertans will keep working, it means the infrastructure needed to support further economic growth — roads, water and sewer projects — will be there when we need it.”

McQueen said the province is committed to an $11.3-billion investment in the fund for municipalities. She said the picture, including the time frame, will be much clearer on March 26 when the provincial budget is announced.

Both Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and city manager Craig Curtis applauded the province for recognizing the importance of infrastructure for Alberta and municipalities.

Curtis said without it, the provincial economy slows down.

“However, this does not indicate to us at this time whether this is gain for us,” said Curtis. “While it may be a gain in the budget up to April, if there is a reduction in the portion after April it could be just a balance. We have to wait and see what impact it has on our budget.”

Curtis said the city will not be applying for new projects until it sees the full financial picture from the province. “Obviously until we see the total picture, we won’t be applying for additional projects. We have all already assumed the allocation for 2015.”

Veer said it is an indication that the minister has heard a consistent message that core infrastructure is a priority for municipalities across the province.

“Obviously the province has been cautioning municipalities and Albertans about the provincial economy,” said Veer. “So there will be aspects that we will by necessity reserve judgment on until we see the impacts on the City of Red Deer when the provincial government comes on March 26.”

The city will use the MSI funding for more road projects and to build the two new fire stations in 2015.

Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood said the county welcomes the funding. He said it will allow the municipality to continue to do the work necessity and to complete projects faster than they would have otherwise.

Alberta Urban Municipalities Association board member Buck Buchanan, a Red Deer city councillor, said this shows that the government is listening to what the municipalities are saying.

Clearwater County Coun. Earl Graham, who sits on the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, echoed Buchanan’s thoughts.

He said MSI funding is a critical component of the budgets for rural municipalities.

Since the MSI grant program was first introduced in 2007, the provincial government has allocated $6 billion of its total $11.3 billion commitment and has assisted with more than 4,800 projects.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com