If you ask Albertans what they want to see from the next provincial government, you’re likely to get a huge variety of answers.
But if you ask elected officials in rural municipalities like those to the north of St. Albert, the answers are pretty specific. It’s about funding, infrastructure and Alberta’s economy.
Both Sturgeon County Mayor Tom Flynn and Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes said last week they would like to see the next government focus firmly on making sure municipalities have the ability to provide the core services residents need.
Holmes said Morinville has grown by 25 per cent in the past decade, which has stretched budget dollars and critical infrastructure thin.
“As a community, we need to focus on how we manage the amount of people coming into our community, and how we offer them basic services,” she said. “That’s where we need the help.”
The huge growth over the past decade has left the town with somewhat of an infrastructure deficit, and not just for municipally provided services. She said the town is “in desperate need” of a junior high/high school for the public division, and while the school has been announced she wants to make sure whoever’s running the show after the May 5 election follows through on that promise.
The most crucial element of this, Holmes said, is not just having the funding now but knowing where it’s coming from in the future. She would like to see at least a five-year commitment for the Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant funding, on which most Albertan municipalities rely for major infrastructure projects. Without it, property taxes could potentially skyrocket.
“We’re only able to access revenue from one source, which is property tax, so in reality we rely solely on the generosity of the province,” she said. “They have to provide us with what we need to be able to provide services to our residents.”
Flynn echoed the sentiment that stable funding moving forward must be a high priority.
“We want to make sure that our income streams are protected, and we’d like a little guidance from the future about a sustainable income as far as grants and funding,” he said.
He also expressed concern about the ongoing maintenance of infrastructure, not necessarily within the municipality itself but also in areas of provincial responsibility like the highway system.
“We as a rural municipality represent a lot of miles of highways in Alberta,” he said. “We want to see continued investment in those highways because they’re the lifeblood of the business that goes on in Alberta.”
The province’s revenue streams are another major issue for all Albertans, including Holmes and Flynn, especially when it comes to the province’s resource wealth. Both said they would like to see more value out of these resources, in one way or another.
Flynn suggested he would like to see more value-added resource activity in the province and in Sturgeon County, with projects like the stalled North West Redwater Partnership Refinery, which Flynn estimated would have generated half a billion dollars worth of taxes for the province by now.
“That’s a big add, over and above the royalty revenue,” he said. “The more we invest in that the better the province will be.”
For Holmes, an ideal situation would see the province expanding its many other potential revenue streams rather than downloading more costs and responsibilities onto municipalities.
“Perhaps it’s time to start investigating those and dedicating portions of those to things like the infrastructure deficit, education and healthcare so we’re no longer questioning what the roller-coaster will be, what the budgets for all these departments will have some stability,” she said.
Both said while they have personal opinions on the matter, as representatives of their respective municipalities, they want to see local representatives who understand the issues and will represent their ridings accordingly.