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City officials call courthouse announcement a ‘big win’

REFLECTING - Mayor Tara Veer addressed the media at City Hall this morning to reflect on yesterday
REFLECTING - Mayor Tara Veer addressed the media at City Hall this morning to reflect on yesterday's provincial budget and the impacts it has to Red Deer.
— image credit: Erin Fawcett/Red Deer Express
A new Red Deer courthouse was announced during the provincial budget yesterday, acknowledging the ever increasing population Red Deer’s courthouse serves and demands on the judicial system. The City is still working through the budget details to determine how it will impact citizens, businesses and the community as a whole.

“The courthouse is good news for our community,” said Mayor Tara Veer. “Community safety is a priority for citizens in Red Deer, and a new courthouse helps ensure more local charges are upheld, which is an important part of the City’s enforcement and community safety efforts.”

The province’s capital budget is $9.2 billion with an investment of $97 million, over four years, for the new courthouse.

“The City will engage in further discussions with the province in the coming weeks about the courthouse details, including the municipal land we’ve been holding in anticipation of this announcement,” said Veer.

Although details regarding the courthouse have not been released, Veer said presumably a year will be allocated for design and the new courthouse would be operational within three to four years.

“The City has been holding a municipal land holding in abeyance awaiting provincial decision since we moved the downtown RCMP building. There have been operating costs to the City of Red Deer as a result of that land being sterilized,” she said. “We will be working with them in the coming weeks to discuss the future of that site and presumable the future demolition of that building.”

The potential site for the courthouse is located south of City Hall and adjacent to the downtown parkade and has been vacant for about five years. It has cost the City between $40,000 and $80,000 a year in maintenance and upkeep to hold the building.

One thing that was missing from the provincial budget was support for the Red Deer Regional Hospital.

“Obviously the courthouse was a win for Red Deer, because that has been a decade of community advocacy in order for that to come to fruition this year. Our community has elevated our voice before the province, particularly in recent months, in terms of the need for enhanced infrastructure at the hospital,” said Veer. “It was certainly a mission from in the fact that the Red Deer Regional Hospital does not show even in the unfunded capital plan.

“Our community has been raising this before the provincial government and now that we have secured the courthouse and have brought resolution in terms of what has been a decade of advocacy, I fully expect our community will elevate their voice and our voice even further with respect to the Red Deer Regional Hospital.”

Meanwhile, the province kept their commitment with both capital and operating Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding streams remaining fairly consistent and Red Deer’s allocation being $23.7 million.

“It is our job as local government to do what we can to realize stability for businesses, residents and communities, and with MSI funding remaining relatively stable, the City can continue moving forward with local infrastructure projects such as roadway improvements and facility development in our community,” said City Manager Craig Curtis. “While we do not yet know how this funding will be funneled into our City, we remain hopeful that it will assist us in meeting the needs of our growing community.”

The province also referenced a continued investment in small and medium size enterprises. “We welcome this continued investment in local and community entrepreneurship as it aligns with our overall vision for Red Deer and a continued focus on economic development in our City,” said Veer.

There were no announcements specifically related to funding for social infrastructure, such as affordable housing and other social supports needed in Red Deer and Central Alberta; however, the budget for FCSS, which increased last year, has remained constant.

In the coming weeks, the City will analyze the impacts of the education requisition for Red Deer and what this means for citizen’s property tax bill. The education requisition will be combined with the approved municipal operating budget when City Council considers the tax rate bylaw in April. Tax notices will then be mailed out in May.

Veer added the carbon levy remains an issue for the City because of its impact on the operating budget, but the programs referenced yesterday could help bring some of this money back to Red Deer.

“We await further details on potential energy-efficiency programs before we can fully understand how businesses, citizens and municipalities can apply. The City remains committed to environmental sustainability and we continue to discuss our position on revenue neutrality with the Government of Alberta and our municipal colleagues across the province,” said Veer.

Red Deer has identified many other community priorities not addressed in this budget such as Polytechnic University status for RDC, Red Deer Regional Hospital growth needs and local social infrastructure, such as affordable housing and other social supports. In the past few years, we have had several advocacy successes including the Hwy. 2 interchange, Red Deer Airport expansion, and now a new courthouse. “We look forward to success in these additional community needs as we continue to work with the Government of Alberta,” said Veer.

Looking ahead, on March 22nd, Red Deer City council and administration will watch for infrastructure funding and affordable housing investment in the federal budget release to determine further impacts on and opportunities for Red Deer.

efawcett@reddeerexpress.com

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