This year’s provincial budget is going to be a challenge for taxpayers, the government and municipalities to balance together.
At the spring Alberta Association of Municipal District and Counties Conference, Doug Griffiths, minister of municipal affairs, said the biggest challenge wasn’t figuring out where to save money but calculating how to balance the opinions of people who feel the government spends too much money.
Griffiths says the money in question is invested in schools, roads, hospitals, libraries and seniors’ support.
“Those things that are very critical and very important. But we had to make some tough choices. And people who said we spend too much money, interestingly enough, as soon as we came up with this budget I got phone calls saying you shouldn’t have cut there,” said Griffiths.
He believes the budget challenge in Alberta stems from Albertans’ attitudes. “We say to ourselves we spend too much money, we need to withhold spending, but don’t cut any programs that we have and quit relying on oil and gas. But don’t raise my taxes.”
Griffiths said that ideal budget is unobtainable and the tough choices made this time around, even though the government tried to create the most balanced budget they could, took more than $1 billion from their budget; leaving a $6-billion gap where they rely on revenue from the oil and gas industry.
Last year the budget gave $2.02 billion to programs for municipalities. This year $1.96 billion was provided.
Even with the approximate $6 million difference Griffiths feels, on a global scale, this budget was kind to municipalities. “Municipalities fared well and the reason they fared well was because the premier made a commitment not to balance the books on the backs of municipalities.”
This year’s budget undertook some “unique” initiatives to provide municipalities with more funds and encourage self-sustainability.
From Municipal Sustainability Initiative operating funds $50 million will be transitioned over the next four years to the Regional Co-operation Program. “Municipalities can still access it when they find creative, innovative, transformative ways to ensure their long-term sustainability.”
Also new this year is the consultation to modify the Municipal Government Act, which was created 17 years ago.
Griffiths wants to begin consultations before the October municipal elections take place because those not running again may have valuable input for the document and he wants to take full advantage of their opinions.