Following last week’s provincial budget announcement, the City of Red Deer has mixed reviews and awaits further details on the specific implications and opportunities for Red Deer.
Officials have said on the good news front, capital and operational funding in the form of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) has been maintained for the City with only a small reduction.
“We are generally relieved that the MSI grants for Red Deer have been sustained,” said Mayor Tara Veer. “As this funding is the life blood of our capital plan this allows us to continue moving forward with much needed local infrastructure projects. One of government’s primary responsibilities during a recession is to bring stability and the way we achieve that is through infrastructure investment. ”
She added as nearly 60% of the public infrastructure in Canada is owned by local governments, the City expected the Province of Alberta would demonstrate its commitment to a higher level of local infrastructure in the budget.
“The most substantial win for Red Deer in the budget is the government’s response to the long-standing need for the QE2 interchange at 19th Street and Gaetz Avenue,” said Veer. “It is a critical access point for our community and will provide for the separation of high speed highway traffic from low speed local traffic, improve access between Red Deer County and Red Deer, improve safety, and allow for increased growth in Red Deer all in time for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
“We acknowledge that the obstetrics expansion at the Red Deer Regional Hospital and the maintenance of funding for the Gary W. Harris Centre for Health, Wellness, and Sport are much anticipated developments for our community.”
Veer said officials are disappointed new funding for a courthouse was not included in the budget.
“The minister of justice has made herself available to us and she is well aware of the pressing need. We have met with her regularly and communicated that justice delayed in many cases is justice denied,” she said. “Really our request before the government right now is the fact that while we recognize they might not have the capital room to build the courthouse, that we ultimately need a decision on that municipal land holding that we have held in abeyance for many years. There is a report that has yet to be released publicly indicating which courthouse renewal takes priority in the province and our hope is that being Alberta’s third largest city and the region that we serve and the fact that we have extensive dockets at the courthouse that Red Deer will be the top priority.”
Meanwhile, the provincial capital plan includes $892 million, an increase, to build more affordable housing and renew existing housing. City officials said they are hopeful that some of this funding will flow to Red Deer to help vulnerable residents in need acquire appropriate housing.
While the budget provided more clarity on the carbon levy, it will take more research and analysis to determine how this new tax will impact Red Deer financially.
Depending on further clarity and details coming out of the budget and the climate change legislation, the carbon levy could have a significant financial impact on municipalities. Preliminary analysis estimates costs of several million dollars over the next five years to the City of Red Deer which may result in a tax increase, utility rate increases or impact the ability to finance local priorities. Initial analysis indicates that additional environmental grants for municipalities have been added to the provincial budget in lieu of an exemption from the carbon levy; however, there is no guarantee that Red Deer will be successful in receiving any of these benefits.
“We support the strong position taken on behalf of our Alberta energy economy and doing this in a way that protects the environment while ensuring a strong economy,” said Veer. “The Energy East pipeline access across the country is critical in ensuring strong Red Deer, Albertan and Canadian economies. We agree that this can be done in both an environmental and fiscally responsible way.”