Meeting with mid-sized city mayors and CAOs highlights key issues for Alberta communities

WATCH ABOVE: Officials from communities across Alberta met in Lethbridge Thursday, highlighting key issues ahead of the UCP’s first provincial budget set to be released in October. Demi Knight reports.

Officials from 22 municipalities across the province gathered in Lethbridge on Thursday for the Alberta Mid-Sized Cities Mayors’ and CAOs’ Caucus.

The meeting welcomed discussion of key issues that communities are facing ahead of October’s provincial budget.

“As we go through a period of fiscal restraint, municipalities have to emphasize what’s important to them and what their priorities are going to be,” said Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman.

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“So that we can go forward and still be successful in attracting new investment and growing our economy.”

READ MORE: Alberta panel says savings to be found in health, education changes

Spearman highlighted one local issue Lethbridge is looking to remedy: the ongoing drug crisis.

He said a drug strategy would be presented at Thursday’s meeting, highlighting the need for a full spectrum of services.

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“Without sufficient detox, without supportive housing [and] without treatment and recovery, we have no way of being successful,” Spearman continued.

“All we’re doing is we’re in maintenance mode — we’re keeping them alive until those services are available.”

Spearman said he hopes to see more funding allocated for these complete services sooner rather than later.

“Even if they’re funded tomorrow, it might be a year or two years before we even have them put in place.”

WATCH BELOW: (From September 2019) Funding from provincial government focusing on help for Alberta addicts

Funding from provincial government focusing on help for Alberta addicts
Funding from provincial government focusing on help for Alberta addicts

Another topic discussed at the caucus was removing barriers for homebuyers in Alberta such as the mortgage stress test, a process Spearman said may be hurting the province’s economy.

“There are artificial barriers which we think are holding the economy back,” Spearman said.

“Homebuilding across Alberta is coming to a grinding halt because people don’t pass the stress test to qualify for mortgage funding.”

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Spearman said Lethbridge is just one city advocating for the removal of these barriers.

“We have a resolution from the City of Lethbridge going to the Urban Municipalities Association Convention, to remove those barriers to mortgage access,” he continued.

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“We believe there are things the province could be doing to help homebuyers and moving those restrictions, so people can more affordably access new housing.”

READ MORE: Could you pass the mortgage stress test? Here’s how to find out

Set to be released in mid-October, the UCP government has made clear its focus of reducing the deficit and reducing red tape in its first budget.

“We’re in a period of financial difficulty,” Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu said.

“I’ve been clear that we are to work together when we share in times of prosperity so that we can also share in times of physical restraint.”

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However, Madu, who was present at Thursday’s caucus, added that the government is also committed to working with all municipalities to tackle prevalent issues across the province.

“I will work with them to make sure that we rebuild our province,” Madu said, “and ensure that they have the resources that they need to tackle some of their municipal priorities.”