City preps for provincial belt-tightening

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St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said during an online question-and-answer session Sunday that she is keeping a close eye on the provincial budget and anticipates cuts to municipal funding.

“I’m honestly very concerned about the budget in March,” she said.

“The provincial government – whether it was the PCs or the current NDPs – are not very forthcoming with what’s going to be in the budget. I’m just hearing rumblings through AUMA that MSI is in danger.”

MSI stands for municipal sustainability initiative funds. Each year, the province calculates how much MSI funding municipalities will receive based on several factors, such as the municipality’s population and kilometres of local roadway.

Heron told the Gazette cuts to MSI funding would affect St. Albert, although not as badly as municipalities that use the funding to service their debt.

In 2018, the estimated MSI funding the city has budgeted for is $11.5 million. Heron said the city has been holding off on spending some of its MSI funding, carrying it forward to the next year.

“We’re insulated from an extreme drop in the 2018 March budget that’s coming out in a month. But that doesn’t mean that’s not going to hurt,” she said.

Funding, roads and transit explored

The issue of provincial funding, along with questions about Ray Gibbon Drive and the city’s public transit, came during a Facebook Live question-and-answer session Heron held Sunday morning at her home.

Responding to a question about lobbying the provincial government for funding to twin Ray Gibbon Drive, Heron said lobbying has already begun and pointed to a motion council passed to look at alternative solutions to twinning the road.

She added she has invited Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason to come to St. Albert to discuss the road further.

As for public transit, Heron said once the city finishes building a park-and-ride south of Anthony Henday Drive, she believes the next step the city needs to take is a review of its local transit routes.

“I think we need to have a better system of moving people around within St. Albert,” she said.

Overall, Heron said she was happy with the level of public participation during the Facebook Live session, which extended it from its planned 10 or 15 minutes to half an hour.

“The questions kept coming, so I kept answering,” Heron told the Gazette on Tuesday.

As for the format, Heron said she sees value in an online forum because it allows her to meet people where they are at.

“I feel it lets people get to know me a bit better. I’m letting them into my home, they’re getting to meet my dog – just making me seem a little bit more real and letting the public know I am very accessible,” she said.

“It’s kind of the new reality of communications, and social media plays a huge part of that.”

She plans to make the session – which she has dubbed Coffee with Cathy – a regular occurrence each month, and wants to see it extend to other events as well, such as the roll-out of council’s strategic plan in March or budget town halls in the fall.

“If it works, and if people like it, then we’ll continue to do it,” she said.

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