Not all municipalities likely to benefit from provincial stimulus cash

Some communities may have to prepare to be disappointed, says Rural Municipalities of Alberta

Some communities will be disappointed to find they have been left out when provincial stimulus cash starts flowing, predicts the head of Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

“We’ve been told over the years, have your projects … shovel ready as much as you can,” said the group’s president, Al Kemmere.

“So many have done that and the list is long for many municipalities.

“There are going to be some broken hearts in this process, because there are significant requests.”

Premier Jason Kenney announced last month the province will double its budget for capital, maintenance and renewal for 2020-21, from $937 million to $1.9 billion.

The cash is part of a so-called relaunch strategy to kickstart an economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and plummeting oil prices, Kenney said.

Kemmere said Rural Municipalities of Alberta and Alberta Urban Municipalities Association representatives will be meeting with a handful of provincial ministers on Thursday to discuss infrastructure and how best to roll out help.

Kemmere said the challenge of programs such as stimulus funding is that there will inevitably be winners and losers.

Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood hopes that projects are not judged only on how many jobs they create, but also by how big an impact they have on residents, such as improvements to broadband service.

Gerald Rhodes, the executive director of Rural Municipalities of Alberta, said they have told the province to funnel any stimulus funding through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative system, which earmarks grants to communities based on size and other factors.

Other provincial grant programs, such as those that dole out money for transportation or water and wastewater projects, could also be used.

Rural Municipalities of Alberta wants to ensure that money previously allocated is maintained and that stimulus funding is extra money.

“We did indicate if there is any stimulus in Alberta, that it be in a one- to three-year time frame. It’s not even humanly possible to add on to the projects that people already had in play and the timing.

“Pulling out of this situation, especially in Alberta with our other circumstances, it is not going to be a 12-month window. It’s going to have to be longer.”

Rural Municipalities of Alberta does not want federal support to hinge upon matching provincial funding, a requirement that has been a frequent source of delay in previous years.

Rhodes said municipalities are likely to get answers soon on how the province intends to proceed.

“We’re hopeful by the end of the week, or beginning of next week, something real will be on the table and we’ll be able to deal with that.

“And hopefully, there will be some telegraphing of where the federal government is going to go.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has so far announced just over $200 billion in stimulus funding, including wage subsidies and government-backed credit lines.

Rural Municipalities of Alberta has been working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on recommendations on how federal stimulus funding should be shared.

The two groups have suggested that money should be easily tapped by municipalities, with a minimum of red tape.



pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

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