By Cole Parkinson
With the provincial budget slated to drop late next week, municipalities are still waiting to see what lasting effects will be brought forward.
A glimpse into what that might bring was issued in the MacKinnon, or Blue Ribbon, Report which was released earlier in September and it included 26 recommendations to bring Alberta’s budget back to a more sustainable level.
“The problem right now is we don’t know. This is a recommendation they got so they aren’t saying this is what our budget is going to look like on (Oct. 24),” said Coun. Brian Brewin during the Municipal District of Taber’s regular meeting on Oct. 8. “It has put us in an interesting spot for our own budgeting.”
The Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), which Brewin is a board member of, provided council with an analysis and breakdown of the MacKinnon Report and they are reviewing the recommendations to ensure they do not compromise the sustainability of rural municipalities.
“We (administration) thought RMA did a good job of analyzing it,” said Doug Henderson, interim CAO. “There is nothing specific to the M.D. but it is good information.”
RMA concerns stemming from the report include municipal grants, municipal accountability and advanced education.
“The ones that concern us is the statement that there is room in municipal taxation. There is a little irony there. On one hand, they are telling us we are taxing too high on our linear and on the other hand they are telling us we have room in our taxation,” added Brewin. “The other ones that were highlighted were municipal grants, we’re concerned about what is going to happen there. MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative), we don’t know what is going on. The initial talks with them had very little back and forth on it. The only statement they said is we aren’t necessarily getting what we agreed on so we are literally starting over from nothing.”
According to the RMA report, 25 per cent of the provincial government’s capital spending is capital grants and the MacKinnon report stated that is unsustainable.
The MacKinnon report also states municipalities should contribute more to infrastructure costs.
“RMA agrees that there is only one taxpayer but does not agree that municipalities should bear greater infrastructure costs. Despite having approximately 18 per cent of Alberta’s population, rural municipalities are already responsible for managing approximately 77 per cent of Alberta’s roads and 60 per cent of Alberta’s bridges,” states RMA’s analysis report. “It is unclear why the report makes the claim that municipalities have tax room and yet rely on increasing provincial grants. Based on discussions with RMA members and the challenges identified by the oil and gas industry, it would appear that many municipalities do not have the room to increase taxes. Further clarification on the methodology behind the report’s claim would be appreciated.”
While MSI funding is expected to shift around in the coming years, next year’s funding looks to be solidified.
“MSI is solid for next year but we need something in place after that. We’re trying to tie it back to revenue which we may take a hit short-term but as the provincial economy gets better, we get better,” continued Brewin.
Another concern municipalities had shared with the incoming budget was around policing.
Much like MSI funding, changes are expected but they don’t know exactly when they will come forward.
“Police funding was a concern but we heard from the Lethbridge MLA (Nathan Neudorf, Lethbridge-East) that it won’t be in this budget. I believe that was his exact statement.”
As far as the biggest change the M.D. can expect to affect them is assessment, according to Brewin.
“I think the bigger one that will affect us is the change in assessment. We know there is going to be some changes to the linear assessment and what that is going to look like, again we don’t know.”
Cuts are sure to come in the Oct. 24 budget but municipalities are hoping they aren’t as dire as they have been in the past.
Even Premier Jason Kenney has gone on record saying the expected upcoming cuts won’t be as extreme as previous budgets.
“I’m sure most of you heard Premier Kenney’s speech from AUMA and basically there are going to be cuts but not to the extent of ’93,” said Brewin.
Even with that statement made, some on council are not feeling confident heading into the official release of the budget.
“I was quite concerned with his statement when he thanked them for the applause and said ‘I wonder if you will applaud me after the budget,’” said Deputy Reeve Tamara Miyanaga. “I think we not only have to be aware of this budget but we’ll also be waiting for that February/March budget that they said will come shortly.”