Welcome to the 2020 Dance
Today we find ourselves in a political dance that happens every time the Province releases their budget. The dance started on February 26 resulting in many questions and concerns by Municipal Government representatives.
The participants of this dance include all orders of government: your local school boards, interest groups such as the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA); as well those who represent professionals such the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), nurses and those who represent broader interests such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The Education Tax, which is collected by the municipalities and is based on property tax assessments, always merits review. This year the Province has imposed a 4% increase in the Education Tax. This increase will be placed on every Municipal tax bill which the Municipality has no control over. The AUMA has suggested that at a time when restraint is being requested of municipalities by the Provincial Government, it would be in their interest to take their own advice.
Municipalities were grateful that the operating portion of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative has remained stable however, as promised, the Provincial Government is continuing to decrease Capital funding. Municipalities are the most fiscally responsible orders of government because they, unlike the Provincial and Federal Governments, cannot run a deficit. We also own the vast majority of infrastructure within the province. The concern is that when cutbacks that support capital infrastructure within municipalities occur, it will cause reductions in the maintenance of these assets. As every homeowner knows, if you choose not to maintain your property, the potential for major costs will be much greater in the future. However, unlike homeowners, municipalities cannot abandon these costs so we know every dollar not invested today will be multiplied many times in the future. This two-step by the Province will cost a great deal of money in the future.
I was thrilled to be part of the announcement, held at the Intermediate campus, of the approval for a New Blackfalds high school. Construction is slated to begin this year and completed in 2021. We look forward to working with the Wolf Creek School Board and the Province to provide an outstanding school that will offer a variety of subjects that equal offerings throughout the Province.
On the other hand, no extra funding is being provided for senior’s housing and the Blackfalds application will wait for another year.
Across the province, municipalities are happy to see that the Family and Community Support Services funding has been maintained. This is a socially responsible approach. On a related note, we wait to see how the change in social funding - now called The Family Resource Network model that resulted in the closing of Parent Link – will be implemented. We know the Province is not giving as much money and the funding will have different parameters, but it is my hope that the end result will allow groups that receive this funding can deliver equally important programs.
As to all the other budgetary questions we have seen in this budget, each of us need to actively decide what the changes in health care, advanced education, schools, and infrastructure funding will do to our province and respond to our MLAs, Ministers, and Premier with our concerns or support.
I hope all of us will join the dance, choose your partner and do the do-si-do, but have some fun doing it.