Letter: What happens when provincial funding is gone

Food For Thought During This Election Period

The Westlock News of Tuesday, October 1, I noticed the following in an article:

“…First Step – The joint councils for the town (of Westlock), county (of Westlock) and the village of Clyde have approved the next step in the potential amalgamation of the three municipalities. On Sept. 26th the three municipalities agreed to apply for the province’s Regional Collaboration Program grant.

“If successful, the municipalities would receive about $250,000 towards a study to examine possible governance options and strategic approaches to best provide an effective and efficient regional government.”

There is more to the article that provides detail which is Westlock-specific. I reread the whole article several times with GREAT interest.

The Provincial Government website under ‘program description’ of the “Regional Collaboration Program” it says:

“The objective of the Regional Collaboration Program (RCP) is to improve the viability and long-term sustainability of municipalities through strategic activities related to regional collaboration and capacity building.”

The website goes on to outline “Key Program Outcomes”:

• Significant regional approaches to municipal service delivery & governance;
• Improved overall municipal capacity to respond to municipal priorities & to build and maintain effective intermunicipal relations through joint and collaborative activities; and
• Strong intermunicipal relations that result in strengthened identities and improved quality of life

An email was sent to Municipal Affairs asking questions about the status of the Municipal Sustainable Initiative (MSI) funding and the apparent movement of funds OUT of the MSI program into the new Regional Collaboration Program. The following information was contained in the response:

• The MSI funding (operating and capital) will be discontinued in 2016.
• Municipalities will have the opportunity to adjust their plans and budgets as the realignment takes place over the next three years.

(Note to self: I wonder when our Town Administration was going to tell the people of Morinville?)

• In order to address transformational change, Municipal Affairs’ focus over the next years will shift away from operating support and towards encouragement of municipalities to work together to achieve regional objectives. The reduction of funding through the MSI operating component of the program will be realigned with the Regional Collaboration Program (RCP).
• It should be noted that there has been no change to the funding levels of the MSI capital component for 2014 and 2015.

The one statement that strikes me as being really important to all of us is that Alberta Municipal Affairs’ focus over the next few years will shift AWAY from operating support (which currently relates to large MSI funding grants every year) and towards encouragement of municipalities to work together to achieve regional objectives.

My interpretation of this is that there will no longer be a whack of funding for each individual municipality, but rather the bulk of funding will be given to those who are best able to “get along”.

In closing, if the Town of Westlock, the County of Westlock and the Village of Clyde are already on the bandwagon and moving towards examining the possible governance options and strategic approaches to best provide an effective and efficient regional government, why aren’t we? If Administration knew about this upcoming change in direction why was nothing said to the general population?

I look forward to the 2014 budget challenge, as I believe that this year the hard questions will HAVE to be answered by someone!

Thank you
Linda Lyons

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  1. Thank you to Brent and Wayne for your comments. Special note to Wayne, yes you are correct the Regional Collaboration Program (RCP) has been around since at least 2010 and I did not state that it was a new program. My focus was to make everyone aware that in 2016 the MSI fund was no longer available and that there was going to be a change in the focus of how funding was going to be allocated to the Municipalities.
    Linda Lyons

  2. Linda The town has NOT used the MSI funding for operating costs. I was around when the Province completely eliminated the MAG ( Municipal Assistantance Grant) in the early 90s when they were eliminating the Provincial deficit. It was absolutely no fun cutting services the MAG operating grant was funding. In my opinion, it was that decision that shifted the Provinces financial deficit to a Municipal infrastructure deficit that the MSI was intended to be used for. Some of the cuts needed at the time were to eliminate infrastructure renewal.

    When MSI was announced I related the MAG story to the council of the day and to subsequent councils and administrators. The Morinville council and administration has wisely used the MSI for one time Capital projects…not for ongoing operational costs. A number of Munis will need to plan a way out of the opertional mess they will find tehmselves in. Fortunately they have three years to either increase their taxes to continue to pay for the operational component of MSI going away or to identify and eliminate services or service levels their residents now enjoy.

    Morinville will merely continue on its merry way due to the foresight of councils past. Past experience can be a great teacher if we choose to listen to it.

  3. Lloyd,

    You raise an interesting point that I’m surprised that I’ve not heard up until now as a possible rationalisation of our seemingly high residential taxes in Morinville.

    If that is the case, then I applaud previous councils’ decisions to not use MSI to fund operating expenses. It is often tempting to fund them from any source, short or long term, rather than raise taxes.

    Thanks for the info.

  4. Lloyd, I have put a large amount of time into research so I am in a position to talk specifics, which you seem inclined to do. What I am specifically referring to is that MSI funding has been used since 2009 for items such as salary expenses for the public library (55,000-87,000 per year), rent for the museum, operating expenses for the bylaw ($114,000), and wage expenses for the chamber of commerce ($17,000) per year. These are solid, concrete operational costs paid from MSI funding from budgets you approved.
    I have a binder where I printed ALL the approved projects for both Operating and Capital for the Town of Morinville since 2008, so please feel free to come on over for coffee if you want to look at the information.
    Thanks Lloys

  5. Lloyd, I’m holding in front of me a document from the province that outlines where the MSI money was spent.

    2011 document is here: MSI Operational Spending 2011

    Page 21 has Morinville spending for salary expenses of the public library, salary expense for the chamber, and rent for the museum.

    Now, those are all allowed uses for the MSI, and I’m not saying they are a bad way to use the funds.

    However, for you to say “The Morinville council and administration has wisely used the MSI for one time Capital projects” appears to be a misstatement. 2009, 2010, and 2011 ALL have “Support the salary expenses of the Morinville Public Library”, and this would not be within my understanding of a “one time capital project”.

    Am I mis-interpreting your statement?

  6. Linda Be happy to meet you to go over this. If I’m ever back in Town long enough. :))

  7. Sean It would appear from both yours and LIndas comments that we did indeed use a bit in each year for operational costs. I will be getting together with Linda some time to review this but it would appear the town is using a bit every year for something different. The good thing is in the overall scheme of things, Morinville receives around 1.2 million ( I could be out 100G either way, its been a while) from MSI annually that we use PRIMARILY 🙂 for capital expenses.

  8. Lloyd, in furtherance to my letter last week that you had such a distaste for “The Importance of Competition”, I did some quick number crunching this morning.

    Using the same references communities, I calculated the % of the MSI grant that was used for operating costs in 2011. I think evaluating the mill rate is certainly one way of comparing communities, but we should be examining multiple metrics. Let’s test out Morinville to the competition on usage of MSI funding for operational purposes to see if we are better prepared than the competition to lose MSI funding.

    Results are:
    St Albert: 7.1%
    Leduc: 7.2%
    Ft. Sask: 7.3%
    Stony Plain: 7.4%
    Beaumont: 7.5%
    Morinville: 7.7%
    Devon: 7.8%

    Morinville used the second highest amount of MSI funding for operational purposes of any of the comparison communities.

    Now, I don’t doubt your assertions that some communities used MSI much more heavily operationally. However, the point of competition is to compete with the best, not to pat ourselves on the back because we aren’t the worst.

    Brent, I hope this answers your above question, and clears up any mis-information that is in this thread.

  9. Thanks for the document Sean. I do recall how that comes to be. You have to tell the GoA what they want to hear.

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