Municipalities taking cautious approach to provincial budget

Central Alberta municipalities have had more time to digest the province’s latest spending plans but questions remain.

Central Alberta municipalities have had more time to digest the province’s latest spending plans but questions remain.

Most communities were relieved that the province agreed to pump $400 million in additional cash into the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI), a decade-old program has provided billions to communities to address infrastructure deficits.

Red Deer County received a $2.7-million supplementary payment in March, ahead of the provincial budget, to boost its MSI take this year to $6.6 million.

However, there has been no official word yet from the province on whether municipalities can expect that higher contribution to be sustained, although a five-year capital plan calls for big increases as future “targets.”

If the increases don’t materialize, Red Deer County and all of the province’s other municipalities will have to review their budgets.

Red Deer County corporate services director Heather Gray said the county typically takes a cautious approach to slotting in provincial funding until there is a firm announcement from the government.

Previously, the county used MSI grants to maintain its large network of roads.

Lacombe County corporate services manager Tim Timmons said they will get $3.6 million in MSI capital funding this year, including $1.6 million in supplementary funding.

Timmons said on Thursday they are not counting on that extra cash next year and assume their MSI will be about $2 million.

Should MSI funding remain at lower levels, it will eventually have an impact on the county’s road paving and bridge projects.

Rural municipalities have been lobbying the province for years to restore funding to a bridge replacement program but that remains unfunded and Lacombe County has been dipping into its MSI funding to do that work.

Fixing or replacing bridges is a major portion of the infrastructure in most rural municipalities, where a majority of bridges were built in the 1940s through 1960s.

Lacombe County has a $131-million bridge replacement program for its 161 bridges and culverts.

In Red Deer County, bridge replacement and repair amounts to a $65-million infrastructure deficit.

The City of Lacombe is also waiting to hear whether it will be affected by the province’s plan to slash a Regional Collaboration Grant program to $19.2 million from $48.8 million. Lacombe and Lacombe County have applied for $300,000 to create an Intermunicipal Development Plan, a joint planning document that ensures neighbouring municipalities are on the same page when it comes to future growth.

Lacombe chief administrative officer Norma MacQuarrie said their application is already in and there has been no word yet on its progress.

“The funding is affected in the budget, so what that means for us I’m not sure.”

Another program whittled down by provincial number crunchers is the Water for Life Strategy, which has been used by municipalities to bankroll major initiatives such as the Olds-to-Red Deer regional wastewater line that is nearing completion.

Lacombe, Blackfalds and Lacombe County have stepped up efforts to line up funding for a Red Deer-to-Lacombe leg, a project expected to cost in the $40-million range, 90 per cent of which would be paid by the province.

However, Water for Life is only funded to $30 million in the last budget, down from its peak of $100 million in 2009.

MacQuarrie said they’re still hopeful that the province will pump more money into the program as the fiscal situation improves.

There is some room for optimism. The province’s five-year plan shows the fund rising again to $86 million, and up to $135 million by 2018.

On the MSI front, Lacombe is in line for $2.24 million this year, a number bolstered by $1 million in supplementary funding.

Additional costs to communities were spotted in a smaller budget line item. The province will stop paying municipalities property taxes on provincially owned social housing. That means a $72,000 hit to Lacombe.

Other grants will rise, in step with increased populations, such as transportation and policing allotments and a Federal Gas Tax Fund.

Municipalities could also see their fine revenues increase, thanks to sharp increases in those penalties.

Whether MSI funding increases is likely to depend on the province hitting targets outlined in its five-year capital plan. It calls for this year’s $497 million in MSI funding to increase to $846 million in 2016-17 and staying at that level for the following two years.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read