Red Deer’s first multi-year budget, proposed for 2021 and 2022, is being billed as “the right budget for the right time.”
Just as COVID-19 has sapped a lot of fun from life, the latest proposed operating and capital budget — impacted by the pandemic and the Alberta recession — is devoid of flash.
This isn’t the time to embark on costly undertakings, such as the long-awaited aquatic centre, said city manager Allan Seabrooke on Thursday.
“We will continue to plan for it and look for opportunities for funding… but it would not be financially prudent to proceed with large, new amenities in these times,” he said.
The proposed budget contains $219.2 million in capital projects in 2021 and $97.5 million in 2022.
It’s based on a tax freeze for the next two years, in recognition of the financial difficulties many residents and businesses are facing, said Mayor Tara Veer.
“No one is immune from financial hardship… so we are keeping taxes as low as possible.”
After undergoing staffing reductions and some organizational restructuring, the proposed budget for 2021 is about $11 million lower than in 2020, said financial officer Dean Krejci.
Also, no higher user fees are proposed in the budget, despite a decrease in provincial grants to municipalities, said Seabrooke.
The aim is for steadfast sustainability, added Veer.
Mostly maintenance projects will be embarked upon — the most hefty being $42.3 million in upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
The capital proposal with the most public appeal is the $35.5 million upgrade of the G.H. Dawe Centre. If approved by city council in early December, the north recreation facility will receive a second ice rink to replace the pending loss of the aging Kinex Area.
Other centre improvements would mean a new spray park and the removal of access barriers in change rooms, so the facility can be used by sledge hockey athletes with disabilities.
Some other proposals in the budget are: nearly $27 million for road maintenance work, construction of a $4.4-million fire training facility, $4.6-million flood berms in the civic yards, a $2.9-million Collicutt Centre preservation project and $6.3 million on work on part of the Northlands Drive project (a CP rail overpass on Highway 11A).
Also included are proposals for $10 million in park land acquisition, $4.6 million for the Culture Services Centre renovation, $5.7 million for upgrading the 9-1-1 communications centre, $8 million for replacing stormwater infrastructure, and $2.8 million for fleet vehicle replacements.
Seabrooke said the city owns billions of dollars in capital assets and must ensure these are maintained as needed.
Because bank interest rates and inflation are both low, he doesn’t think the two-year tax freeze will impact the city’s ability to make timely upgrades.
Delivering recessionary budgets is tough enough, but the additional $1.3 million of COVID-19-related costs have led to an “exceptional” need for austerity, said Seabrooke.
If the province continues on a path to remove Red Deer’s integrated fire/ambulance dispatch system, it will cost the city about $500,000 annually. But Veer and various other Alberta mayors continue to lobby the government to reconsider this decision on the basis of preserving a better service.
Red Deerians have until Nov. 30 to provide the city with input on the proposed budget, which is available at www.reddeer.ca.
While paper copies are not being provided during the pandemic, residents without computer access can call 403-342-8111 to make other arrangements.
City council will deliberate on the multi-year budget from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.