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Getting more provincial support for local housing projects is a priority issue for Red Deer’s Mayor

Ken Johnston will be heading to ABmunis conference in Edmonton on Wednesday
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston will discuss housing and other pressing issues this week at the Alberta Municipalities conference in Edmonton. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston will discuss opioid abuse, homelessness and other social problems that are plaguing most cities with other mayors at the ABmunis conference this week.

More than 1,100 municipal leaders will gather from Sept. 25 to 27 for the 2023 Alberta Municipalities (ABmunis) Convention and Trade Show in Edmonton. This year’s event is expected to be the largest-ever annual gathering of municipal elected officials in Alberta.

These leaders are expected to discuss major issues that affect them all.

Top of the priority list for Red Deer’s mayor is to discuss the need for more provincial investment in permanent supportive housing.

Red Deer’s homelessness problems would be lessened greatly with more local supportive housing; “It’s a major need for us,” said Johnston. A 2019 community needs study identified this city was short of 77 spaces for people in need of supportive housing.

Last week, Red Deer city council approved using some money received from a federal housing program as a matching municipal contribution for a private housing development program. The hope is that the province will also kick in a financial contribution so the 80-unit project can get off the ground.

Johnston said the city has already reduced red-tape and prioritized housing projects for approvals and rezonings so would appreciate some provincial financial help. “This is an opportunity for the province to take a more aggressive role, from a funding perspective, and for us to get advocating to get a fair share,” he added.

Alberta municipalities are also concerned about a new provincial funding formula called Local Government Fiscal Funding (LGFF) that is expected to replace the old Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding in 2024.

Instead of being allocated on a per-capita basis as was MSI, the new formula will be tied to the rising and falling fortunes of government revenues — which are, in turn, closely connected to energy prices. Johnston said there’s a constant need to maintain municipal infrastructure, such as buildings and roads, so there is concern about linking this funding to a fluctuating industry. Municipalities are concerned about the uncertainty this will introduce, he added.

He noted provincial funding to Alberta municipalities has already dropped to $800 million over a decade from a previous $1.75 billion, so belt-tightening has become a way of life.

Local officials will also continue to lobby for a return to local fire dispatching. And Coun. Lawrence Lee will be advocating for ABmunis to make wireless services (for cellphones and Internet) an essential service so that everybody gets a high standard of service.

Lee also hopes to get elected as a Red Deer representative to the group’s board of directors for cities of up to 500,000 people.

Next year’s ABmunis conference will be held in Red Deer, which will get to host the event every third year.