by Colin Smith
In its first budget, the United Conservative Party government announced some changes to how Alberta’s municipalities are funded, but the immediate effect on Morinville should be limited, according to its mayor.
Mayor Barry Turner told Morinville News that the impact on the Town’s 2020 is not significant at this point.
“The Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grant funding was reduced, as expected,” he said by email. “However, this reduction is happening in 2021 – a year earlier than anticipated. We have budgeted in 2022 for a 30 per cent reduction. We will be moving this forward to the 2021 budget.”
Turner noted that in 2022, the MSI program would be replaced by the Local Government Fiscal Framework.
“This program will provide ongoing, long term, predictable funding for three years, although estimated funding levels are not known at this time.”
The Grants in Lieu of Taxes program that provides funds to municipalities in lieu of property taxes was also reduced in the provincial budget.
“Morinville receives funding through this program due to the Courthouse and a former Alberta Transportation yard in town,” said Turner. “This has been reduced by 25 per cent for 2019 – roughly $7,000—and will be reduced by an additional 25 per cent in 2020.”
The Alberta School Foundation Fund requisition, an expense included on property tax bills, was frozen at the 2019 rate.
“In essence, the impact of the provincial budget to the Town of Morinville to this point is minimal, and the 2020 budget will be largely unaffected,” Turner said. “The longer-term implications will be to future reductions to the MSI program, and these will impact the budget for 2021 and beyond.”
In a release reacting to the provincial budget, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association President Barry Morashita said the organization is relieved it supports municipalities by maintaining critical programs for policing, libraries, Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), and the infrastructure operating budgets for small communities.
“However, the planned changes to some municipal programs cause us concern. While Budget 2019 keeps the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) stable for this year, it will be depleted over subsequent years, leading to a new fiscal framework with a funding level that fails to address the long-term infrastructure needs of Alberta’s communities.”
Funding for infrastructure is a particular concern, according to Morashita.
“While the province reduces its budget by 2.8 per cent over the next four years, it has proposed reducing our infrastructure funding by almost 10 times that amount,” he stated. “With municipal governments currently facing a multibillion-dollar infrastructure deficit, these funding cuts will lead to crumbling community infrastructure or higher taxes for property owners for years to come.”
Morinville Council is set to debate the 2020 Budget at second reading Nov. 12.