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Province puts taxation burden on municipalities, mayor says

Budget 2024 fails to address Alberta's $30B infrastructure deficit: Heron
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St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron speaks to a crowd in St. Albert in September

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron is disappointed with the province’s 2024 budget and says the province is foisting the burden of raising taxes on municipalities.

Her main criticism of the plan, which was unveiled last Thursday, is the government is not investing more money into the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF), which provides funding for capital projects such as infrastructure maintenance and new buildings.

“The province is essentially refusing to acknowledge that [Alberta municipalities] have a $30 billion infrastructure deficit,” Heron said. “We had been, I wouldn't even say asking, I'd say we were begging for more money for the LGFF grant program.”

Up until 2022, St. Albert was regularly getting around $15 million in infrastructure funding from the province. But in 2022 that amount was halved to about $7.4 million, and this year it was raised to only $7.9 million, Heron said.

Municipalities across the province face a similar situation.

“If you have a growing community — and St. Albert is a growing community — you not only need the same funding, you need the same funding plus inflation … plus the growth factor,” Heron said.

The provincial government receives “accolades” for balancing the budget and reducing debt, but “it's on the backs of the municipalities and the property taxpayers, because they have to pay more in property taxes or let their let their infrastructure crumble,” she said.

If the government continued to give St. Albert $15 million in yearly infrastructure funding, the city could more easily save the $60 million currently needed for the Lakeview Business District and the $100 million needed for a new recreation centre.

Heron could not say whether this year’s restrained budget could mean more delays for Lakeview Business District. But she was happy that the government announced a Local Growth and Sustainability Grant, which will give the entire province $60 million in infrastructure funding that will be doled out in $20 million chunks over three years. “It’s not a lot of money, but it’s better than nothing,” she said.

Heron had also hoped the province would increase funding to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board by $1 million. The board brings together 13 rural and urban municipalities in the Edmonton region, including St. Albert, to manage population growth and reduce inter-municipal bureaucracy.

The province currently gives the board $1 million annually, but pre-pandemic it offered $4 million.

“It's a lost opportunity, I think, and we've demonstrated to the province over and over again, how much money we're saving them through reduction in duplication of services,” Heron said.

St. Albert will also be expected to collect just over $38 million in education property taxes in 2024. That is roughly $2 million more than last year, Heron said.

“When education property taxes go up by 4.7 per cent, who gets the angry phone calls? It’s mayor and council, not the province,” she said of the tax that gets added to property taxes but goes to paying for schools.

Keep following the Gazette for more reactions to the 2024 provincial budget.


About the Author: Riley Tjosvold

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