Health care, education to feel impact

An increase in dollars for health and a slight increase in funding for education in Thursday’s provincial budget is being met with some caution about how these two vital sectors will change over the next year.

An increase in dollars for health and a slight increase in funding for education in Thursday’s provincial budget is being met with some caution about how these two vital sectors will change over the next year.

Central Alberta leaders were wary over what the provincial budget figures will mean in the coming months. Change is expected.

Brenda Corney, who sits on the provincial board for Friends of Medicare and is chair of the Red Deer chapter, said that health care will see a three-per-cent increase, but it’s not what was promised earlier. A 4.5 per cent increase was promised when a five-year funding plan was revealed in 2010.

“Obviously, there’s going to be some changes in health care,” said Corney. “Freezing the wages of nurses and looking into their pensions seems to be a little much to me. But there’s all sorts of services that are needing to continue and I don’t know if we’re going to lose them.”

The provincial capital plan includes $2.1 billion for health-care facilities, including hospitals, family care clinics, cancer centres, supportive living and long-term care.

“We have hospitals that are being built (in Alberta) and we have to shift staff from one to the other, so we’re not gaining capacity,” said Corney. “Twenty years ago, we had more beds than we have now.”

She wonders where the money will come from for new Family Care Clinics, and how are they going to be set up.

The provincial budget will see less funding for Red Deer Public Schools, however increased enrolment will likely make up the difference.

“It’s a tough budget, but we’re expecting to be in the same place as last year,” said board chairman Lawrence Lee.

Funding for the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement as well as transportation fuel subsidies will be eliminated effective April 1, resulting in an anticipated loss of $340,000 in the current year’s operations.

Lee was encouraged that earlier announced funding cuts for inclusive education will not proceed. The 2012/13 budget for Red Deer Public sits at $109 million. Initial projections by the district forecast a reduction in funding of $1.26 million to next year’s budget (Alberta Initiative for School Improvement $650,000, reduced funding for system administration $400,000, fuel stabilization funding $100,000, learning Resources Credit $110,000).

Other reductions in the provincial budget, including funding for Work Experience, English as a Second Language support, courses delivered in conjunction with the Alberta Distance Learning Centre as well as facility funding, have yet to be confirmed and are expected to result in additional loss of funding.

“One of the tough parts of the budget will be reviewing how we have to operate,” said Lee. “We’re going to have to get as creative with every dollar because they are going to be cutting funding in terms of our administration.”

Rod Steeves, secretary/treasurer for Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, said they’re going to review the changes over the next few days.

“There will be some loss of funds here, but it is what it is. We’ll have to deal with it in our budget constraints,” said Steeves.

Sam Denhaan, committee member of the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance, said that the Human Services budget was fairly unscathed, which brought some relief. However, there’s concern about a $9-million reduction in employment training.

“We think that has a big effect on poverty,” said Denhaan. “If people are unemployed and need retraining, that’s definitely one way of reducing poverty.”

Denhaan said that affordable housing projects would be moving to a P3 (public private partnership) model, but it will have to be paid for in the end, so it’s like putting a mortgage on something.

Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner talked about putting money into this savings account and that savings account, which makes Denhaan wonder if they’re really “shuffling the deck so no one can keep track of it.”

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