Mixed City reaction after provincial budget

  • Apr. 15, 2016 5:08 p.m.

Following yesterday’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.

On the good news front, capital and operational funding in the form of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) has been maintained for the City of Red Deer 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 St. 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, we are, however, highly disappointed that a new Red Deer court house didn’t receive funding” added Veer. “A new courthouse is a critical need in Red Deer and region as there is an urgent need to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and speed up legal proceedings. We’re disappointed that 11A east of QE2 to Gaetz Avenue and 2A to Blackfalds were on the ‘unfunded list’. The multi-year capital plan does, however, provide us with useful information to plan and anticipate provincial priorities.”

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 and how it supports our local efforts towards community environmental sustainability.

“It initially appears that council’s and AUMA Mayors’ Caucus request for this new levy to be ‘revenue neutral’ for municipalities and not impact municipal taxes was ignored,” said Veer. “This would have enabled municipalities to work towards environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation and adaptation based on local priorities without financially burdening our communities. We will continue to discuss our position with the Government of Alberta and our municipal colleagues across the province.”

Depending on further clarity and details coming out of this 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.”

City officials added they were also pleased to see money allocated for First Nations development and to help build new relationships with Indigenous peoples.

Veer added, regardless of the content of the provincial budget, the City of Red Deer remains committed to building towards the vision and potential of the community and region while navigating responsibly through the current economic reality.

– Fawcett

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