Concept images of an aquatic centre, as seen on the walls of the Red Deer Recreation Centre. (Advocate file photo).

Red Deer city councillors fear the deficit will be decreased on the backs of municipalities

Aquatic Centre and other building projects could be put on hold

The long-awaited aquatic centre and other projects on Red Deer’s to-do list would be pushed back if the provincial government acts on advice to make municipalities shoulder more capital costs, says Red Deer’s mayor.

City residents would have to rein in their expectations significantly, adds Tara Veer, reacting to recommendations from a panel looking into Alberta’s finances.

The so-called blue ribbon panel, chaired by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon, came up with 26 recommendations to reduce the provincial deficit, including shifting more of the responsibility for capital projects onto municipalities.

This would cause a “real impact,” says Veer, causing many construction and maintenance projects to be deferred.

Red Deer city councillors are wary of more “downloading” of provincial responsibilities onto communities.

Some councillors fear the Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding the city receives from the province could be kept at the 10 per cent reduced interim rate it’s getting until the provincial budget is passed — or even cut back more.

Coun. Vesna Higham understands the need to reduce the provincial deficit, but believes this shouldn’t come at the expense of cities and towns.

She notes Red Deer is already dealing with the detrimental effects of drug addiction, homelessness and mental health problems — which are all provincial funding responsibilities — and “cannot carry more burden.”

Provincial grants have been axed over decades and “we are at the point where the rubber hits the road,” she adds.

Veer notes that when local social agencies receive provincial cutbacks, their next step is coming to the city for financial help — and where will the money come from if municipalities are cut back too?

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes says there’s only one taxpayer, regardless of whether the “ask” comes from the province or municipality.

“Folks will just end up paying more in municipal taxes…”

Although Alberta was deemed the biggest spending province in Canada, Wyntjes wonders why revenue potential wasn’t factored into the panel’s considerations.

Why did the government just reduce corporate taxes without making job creation a clear stipulation, she adds — and why isn’t there a discussion about implementing a provincial sales tax, since this province is the only one in the country without one?

If rising deficits are the problem, Wyntjes feels a sales tax could be a fairer solution — instead of clawing back needed money from municipal programs.

All Alberta municipalities are waiting to see what the provincial budget will bring this fall.

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