Mayor Ken Johnston said he stands behind local front-line health workers who want Red Deer hospital to be made more functional before the expansion project is completed in eight years.
While the Red Deer Regional Hospital project is getting $320.6 million from the province over the next three years towards its $1.8 billion redevelopment, local doctors say central Albertans can’t wait until 2030-31 to get more patient beds, more emergency room and operating spaces.
They are advocating for a bridge plan to address some Red Deer hospital insufficiencies over the next year or two rather than waiting until the expansion project is completed.
“Red Deer has been strong and united in its voice for a proper hospital serving Red Deer and region,” said Johnston. “We look forward to understanding more how this financial commitment translates into action, in terms of the planning for and building of this critical piece of infrastructure.”
The mayor intends to meet with the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta before the 11 a.m. town hall meeting on March 8 at the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame to discuss what is needed, in terms of transitional healthcare services, until the hospital expansion is completed.
He said he will then take this message to the province.
Johnston, who was generally very pleased with Tuesday’s provincial budget, hopes the extra funding the government has pledged for rural health care will take some pressure off of Red Deer hospital.
He was particularly thrilled with the $30 million commitment for the Red Deer Regional Airport expansion, which Johnston thinks will give this area a big economic boost. He said airport improvements should lead to expanded freight service, renewed passenger service, aviation maintenance jobs and other benefits.
The mayor was also happy to see the government maintaining funding for the completion of the local Justice Centre, addictions treatment centre, and yet-to-be-built permanent homeless shelter.
But he said he still needs to explore what there is in the budget to help municipalities encourage the construction of more affordable housing.
And the mayor is continuing to advocate for more provincial investment in alternative energy programs and other diversification to reduce Alberta’s dependence on conventional non-renewable oil and gas.
In good news for the city, the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) operating grant from the province is doubling for 2023/24. The hope is that Red Deer’s portion will also double, adding an extra $700,000 to municipal reserves.
Johnston said council will have to discuss whether to put this towards savings, or whether to green-light some projects that were previously outside the city’s budget commitment for 2023.
“Once we know the exact amounts, we will be able to make recommendations on how this could be allocated,” said city manager Tara Lodewyk.
A more direct positive for taxpayers is that Red Deer’s portion of the province’s education requisition will decrease by 2.36 percent. The reduction in education property tax will be combined with the 4.61 per cent municipal increase for the 2023 property tax notices. The total will be finalized when the Tax Rate Bylaw is approved by Council in April.
“Overall, this is a good news budget,” said Mayor Johnston. “All Albertans have been experiencing the financial impacts from COVID, followed by sharp inflation. This budget sees an increase in supports to cope with these pressures, and that will equate to positive impacts on our community.”