City officials will be watching provincial budget closely

Local officials are encouraged about what they heard in the speech from the throne but are anxious to hear what it translates to in Thursday’s provincial budget.

Local officials are encouraged about what they heard in the speech from the throne but are anxious to hear what it translates to in Thursday’s provincial budget.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said the throne speech highlighted the province’s promise to continue to work with municipalities.

Veer said the commitment to municipal sustainability initiative (MSI) funding and Green Transit Incentives Program (GreenTrip) funding is encouraging. She said the city will be watching closely the parameters around those two grants because they will have direct impact on Red Deer.

The MSI program provides funding to municipalities to spend on roads, community buildings and sports facilities.

In 2013, Red Deer received $18 million — $16.8 million on the capital side and $1.3 million on the operating side — in MSI funding.

Last year, Red Deer reassigned $600,000 of its GreenTrip funding to move along the regional transit system that will connect Red Deer, Lacombe and Blackfalds. Red Deer received a grant up to $12.1 million to purchase buses in 2011.

Last week, Health Minister Fred Horne indicated that the timing of reaching the in-principle agreement on ambulance dispatch was critical because it would have budget implications.

The agreement allows Red Deer to retain its ambulance dispatch and reverses the province’s plans to move the service to Calgary.

Red Deer city manager Craig Curtis said they hope to hear more details about ambulance dispatch, capital projects for the region, ongoing municipal sustainability funding and transportation.

They will also be paying close attention to any funding for affordable housing.

“It’s always hard to say,” said Curtis. “I am relatively optimistic on a number of fronts. There seems to be a greater recognition of the municipal role and some of the community amenities that the city needs.”

Red Deer College president Joel Ward does not expect to see much in the budget for post-secondary education.

Ward said judging from the throne speech, the government has shown its hand for areas such as health care, building kindergarten to Grade 12 schools and infrastructure projects.

Ward said he does not expect any significant change to the current post-secondary model.

“I think the budget will be flat,” said Ward. “I don’t think we will be cut but I don’t think there will be any money added to our grant.”

Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie said while the throne speech sounded positive, he said the speech and the provincial budget are two different things.

“Just like everybody, we’re looking for predictable funding,” said Christie.

As well, Christie would like to see the money flowing in the direction of the Water for Life, an action plan to promote sustainable water supplies to communities, wastewater projects and resource road grants.

“We’re a growing community and there’s a lot of things happening,” said Christie. “We’re trying to be proactive and be ahead of the curb and get the infrastructure in place before the big population change hits. Those are the types of funding and grants that will help us achieve those goals.”

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