Mayor Tara Veer said she is “disappointed” about the lack of funding for a Red Deer hospital expansion and a round-the-clock homeless shelter.
However, she added that she received assurances that our community’s need for both projects is on the provincial government’s radar after meeting with the ministers responsible.
Veer expects to see more funds for both the hospital and the shelter in the spring provincial budget. If these two projects are overlooked again, she said “the response will be different.”
In a low-key press conference Friday, Veer explained the United Conservative Party government has only held power for six months and needs to hear more details about what’s required for both projects.
With the continued lack of shelter spaces — Red Deer has the fewest per capita in the province — she said this city has seen a lot of “social disorder spill over into the parks and downtown.”
But Veer said the minister in charge indicated a need to work with the City of Red Deer to come up with a detailed business plan, including the size of the shelter that’s needed, in the next few weeks.
In the provincial budget released Thursday, Red Deer hospital was in the same pool with two other Alberta hospitals to share a total of $1 million for project planning.
In last year’s budget under the New Democrat government, the Red Deer hospital project solely received $1 million to create a business plan for an expansion that studies show has been needed for more than a decade.
Red Deer has double the death rate from heart attacks than Calgary and Edmonton because of a lack of a local catheterization laboratory. The procedure involves the insertion of a catheter into the heart for diagnostic and treatment purposes.
Veer believes this year’s planning money will be used to determine how to do a phased implementation of the hospital expansion.
“We share the concerns of the community,” about the project not getting major funding, she said.
But Veer maintained that she got the sense, through her meetings with the ministers, “there is an acute awareness of our needs” at the provincial level.
She’s pleased that the new justice centre construction project is going ahead in the city, and that Red Deer College will continue on its path to becoming a university.
There is no word yet on how many of the 50 new Crown prosecutors are slated for Red Deer, but Veer said she spoke of the city’s need for additional resources.
She also hopes the city will get some of the new provincial funding available for drug and alcohol treatment, and will benefit from the $50 million investment over the next four years in the police ALERT team that cracks down on organized crime.
Funding to municipalities is frozen for the remainder of this year, and then will decline by nine per cent in each of the next two years. Veer said the city anticipated these “austerity” cuts and planned for them by removing $1 billion in spending from its 10-year capital plan.
An unexpected reduction is the 50 per cent over two years decline in provincial grants that the province gives municipalities in place of paying property taxes on infrastructure, such as the Michener Centre.
Chief financial officer Dean Krejci said the loss will be felt, but these grants only made up about half of one per cent of city revenues.
Krejci said that the city’s administration was ordered by council to keep the municipal property tax increase for next year at 2.5 per cent or lower, and that’s still the plan.