Skip to content

St. Albert braces for 'restrained' provincial budget

City stakeholders prioritize infrastructure, new schools, social services
The provincial government released the first budget of its term Thursday.

St. Albert stakeholders say the city needs more funding for education, infrastructure and social services, even though Premier Danielle Smith has warned the province’s 2024 budget will be “restrained.”

St. Albert's mayor and council want to see funding for major land development projects when the UCP government delivers the budget on Thursday.

“Funding for Lakeview [Business District], I think that's probably our number one ask,” Mayor Cathy Heron said, referring to the future business park near Big Lake that council has been working toward for years.

The business district is considered St. Albert's best opportunity to shift the annual property tax burden towards businesses, rather than relying heavily on residential property taxes.

City staff are in the process of finalizing an Area Structure Plan (ASP) for the district. The next step will be servicing the land, which Heron has said could cost as much as $80 million.

“There's no real government program to fund the business park,” Heron said. “We'll need some provincial and probably federal money too.”

“Once it's done, the return on investment for not just the city, but the province, will be a fantastic number of jobs and [gross domestic product] impacts.”

Coun. Wes Brodhead mentioned funding for the northeast servicing project, which council heard earlier this month will cost more than $60 million, and the $166 million price tag that ARROW Utilities is investigating to expand and upgrade a wastewater treatment plant.

“The infrastructure across the province, there's a deficit in terms of municipalities being able to fund the huge capital expenditures for some of the necessary infrastructure improvements,” Brodhead said. 

Tyler Gandam, mayor of Wetaskiwin and current president of Alberta Municipalities, told the Gazette in December the municipal infrastructure deficit is $30 billion. Alberta Municipalities has been calling on the provincial government to increase the annual funding given to municipalities under the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF), formerly called the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, by $1 billion per year.

The province has already solidified the annual LGFF capital transfers to municipalities in 2024 and 2025, so it's unlikely Thursday's provincial budget will bring any immediate changes to the program's funding amount. This year, St. Albert is receiving nearly $8 million in LGFF capital funding, along with nearly $1 million in LGFF operating funding. In 2025, St. Albert is set to receive $9.25 million in LGFF capital funding, but the operating amount has yet to be determined. While the 2025 funding is an increase from the year before, it is still less than the $10.25 million in MSI funding the city received in 2019, or $10.1 million in 2018.

Coun. Mike Killick said he'd like to see the province increase the LGFF funding available to municipalities.

“I don't think we need to necessarily look for anything new, but certainly the projects that we have on the books and [have] been in discussion with all levels of government ... it'd be great to see the province come to the table with some funding for that.”

On the other hand, Coun. Shelley Biermanski said she's expecting the province to table a “balanced and fair budget,” which may not include funding for the city’s list of ongoing projects.

“There are many projects in many areas right now, and a lot of people will be applying for grant funding [but] the province can't provide that kind of funding to everyone for everything,” she said. 

“I think that there will be a priority study of what's needed most where, and we will maybe qualify for some of those things and maybe we won't, because there's a lot of people demanding money.”

St. Albert needs schools, modernizations

St. Albert’s public school division urgently needs “a few new schools,” said Paula Power, the division’s communications manager, in an email.

“Our overall utilization rate is extremely high,” Power said. St. Albert Public Schools serves over 9,200 students, according to the division’s most recent capital plan.

The division has plans for two new schools: a pre-kindergarten to Grade 9 school that can support up to 900 students and a high school for 1,650 students. But Powers doesn’t expect funding for these new schools right away. Land must be serviced before the province will move on a project.

There is space for a new pre-kindergarten to Grade 9 school in Cherot, a community that is being built on the city’s northwest end. However, “as of right now in St. Albert, there are no shovel-ready sites …  big enough to accommodate a high school,” she said.

“We have been advocating for enough school sites of adequate size for many years,” Power said. “The other big ask is always our portable/modular situation. We have so many that are decades old and need replacing,” or could be decommissioned in favour of permanent spaces.

In an email, a spokesperson for St. Albert Catholic said the school division has three priorities: continued work on its French immersion campus, modernization of Legal School and modernization of Bertha Kennedy School.

The Gazette also reached out to Poundmaker's Lodge, an Indigenous addiction treatment centre in St. Albert.

Poundmaker's is facing a "huge funding shortfall," said Carla Jamison, a spokesperson for the organization. 

"We have reached out to the government for that support," Jamison said. "There's no reply from them, despite their commitment to supporting us in our endeavours to create healthier communities, free of addiction."

They hope that the province will support them with more funding in 2024. 

Budget likely won't keep up with inflation, Renaud says

Premier Danielle Smith said in a televised statement last week that she will “limit government spending to below the legislated rate cap of inflation plus population growth.”

The province must become less reliant on the fossil fuel industry and must contribute more to the Alberta Heritage Fund, she said, adding she would like to grow the roughly $25 billion fund to $400 billion by 2050.

“[Smith] has been pretty clear that she is not going to make the investments that we really need in public education and public health care,” said St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud.

Renaud, NDP social services critic, said her greatest concern in the 2024 budget is funding for community and social services.

“Not keeping up with inflation and population growth, particularly in these front-line, front-facing files, is going to have huge implications for AISH recipients, for people on income support, for people who receive support through persons with developmental disabilities, families and children with disabilities,” she said.

The programs are oversubscribed, and waiting lists are constantly growing, Renaud said.

Renaud also questioned Smith’s dedication when it comes to “getting off the fossil-fuel roller-coaster.”

“Halting renewables is not how you get off the roller-coaster,” she said. “'I’m hopeful we will see a climate change plan, maybe we will see strategic investment in health care and education. But looking back on their track record, it’s not great.”

Dale Nally, red tape reduction minister and MLA for St. Albert-Morinville, said he could not comment because he would be breaking cabinet confidence.

“I'll reiterate what the premier said,” he said. “Every budget has a theme, and the theme of this budget is about saving for the future.”

The province will deliver the 2024 budget on Thursday, Feb. 29. Follow for updates.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks