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Economy

Municipal leaders have lots of money questions as they grill Alberta ministers

WATCH: Alberta mayors are being warned to temper their expectations ahead of next month's provincial budget. The United Conservatives have promised to balance the books within four years and communities are being told they'll also have to do their part. Tom Vernon explains.

Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu gave delegates at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) convention in Edmonton a predictable funding statement ahead of next month’s provincial budget, blaming the previous four years of NDP rule as the reason for Alberta’s financial mess.

It wasn’t surprising because it had been the Kenney government’s main message even before Albertans went to the polls. It also set the stage before municipal leaders grilled cabinet ministers in a bear-pit session on the convention floor Thursday.

AUMA President Barry Morishita, the mayor of Brooks, Alta., told reporters afterward that his members are expecting spending cuts.

“Municipalities, whenever we’re facing a resource decline, we’re always worried,” he said.

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“We’re always worried about the amount and where it’ll be. But we have faced this before. That’s why AUMA has advocated long and hard for a legislated, predictable funding model, so this can’t happen on a year-to-year basis.”

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READ MORE: Province introduces bill on future municipal infrastructure funding for Edmonton, Calgary

Former NDP finance minister Joe Ceci has been taking in the convention. He is predicting that municipalities will be sharing the pain.

“We project 30 per cent by 2020. That’s what I’m hearing these ministers talk about,” Ceci told reporters. “Municipalities will be paying the bill for the $4.5-billion tax giveaway that Premier Kenney has already given to businesses in this province.”

When he was finance minister for the Notley government, deals were signed with Edmonton and Calgary on funding going forward that was designed to award the cities in good times. The election call came before similar deals were reached with AUMA members or their county counterparts with the Rural Municipalities Association.

“We ran out of runway,” he said about the lack of time to finalize an agreement.

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READ MORE: Alberta’s other municipalities hoping to finalize funding deal with province after election

Ceci said he’s not sure if there is language in the Edmonton and Calgary contracts that would allow the United Conservative government to re-open them.

“I’ll have to review that Oct. 8 [when the house resumes sitting] to see if changes could be made through legislation or regulations.”

Kenney is scheduled to give the keynote speech at the AUMA convention on Friday.

In his address to the AUMA on Thursday, Madu announced reductions to administrative requirements for municipalities to government programs.

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For instance, the UCP is promising quicker review and approvals of applications to make it easier to administer grant-funded projects that support local engineering and contracting jobs. The government will also no longer require municipalities to submit a spending plan to receive their 2019 Municipal Sustainability Initiative operating allocation. Instead, they’ll report how they used the funding at the end of the year.

Watch below (Sept. 11): Edmonton-Southwest MLA and Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu is the only UCP voice from the capital in government. Vinesh Pratap sat down with the minister. 

In conversation with Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu
In conversation with Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu

Morishita was encouraged by some of the answers he heard from the ministers.

Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given asked about long-awaited revenue-sharing from cannabis sales.

“The industry has not generated material revenues at this point,” Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews replied, but said that should improve as supply grows.

Environment Minister Jason Nixon did not make an announcement on an extended producer responsibility or EPR program as municipalities are looking for a new cost-sharing formula to recycle paper, cardboard and plastic. But he did offer encouragement.

READ MORE: Alberta recycling industry adapts to China’s new policy on importing recycle waste

“We are the last ones to the table in this country on that. We have an opportunity right now to have a look at what has taken place, coast to coast, and look at the mistakes and what has worked, and then come up with a made-in-Alberta solution that makes us a leader on this file going forward.

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“But to be clear, our government will move to make sure that is the case in the coming months.”

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And Toews confirmed that the government would not penalize individual municipalities if they band together to provide regional services.

“Those were three very good directions,” Morishita said. “AUMA has been pressing for those for a while.”

Watch below (Aug. 6): A councillor in Grande Prairie says urban taxpayers are subsidizing rural residents and the province needs to level the playing field. Tom Vernon has this Alberta Matters story.

Urban taxpayers subsidizing rural: Grande Prairie city councillor
Urban taxpayers subsidizing rural: Grande Prairie city councillor

William Choy, the mayor of Stony Plain, asked about block funding.

“We are open to ideas,” Madu said, “but we did not make any commitment to block funding at this time.”

The provincial budget will be tabled on Oct. 24, the Thursday after the Oct. 21 federal election.

Watch below (Sept. 25): Would you be willing to pay a sales tax inside your community if it meant a break on future property tax hikes? Alberta municipalities say they need to find new ways to raise revenues and they’re hoping the province opens up the toolbox. Tom Vernon reports.

Alberta municipalities say they need new ways to raise revenue
Alberta municipalities say they need new ways to raise revenue