Monday, June 22, 2015

MLA Pat Stier raises MSI funding concerns in legislature

Christian Davis

During the June 18 question period of the Alberta Legislature, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier asked the Alberta Government to commit to the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding promised for 2015-2016 by the previous government in their now rescinded 2015 budget.

According to their website, Alberta Municipal Affairs has allocated almost $6.7 billion to municipalities since the MSI program launched in 2007.  MSI funding supports infrastructure initiatives, including building and rehabilitating "roadways and bridges, water and wastewater systems, public transit facilities, and recreation and sport facilities, and other key local priorities".  The department's proposed five year plan estimated $879.6 million in MSI funding for 2015, which was subject to legislative approval of the 2015 budget.  That number included maintaining a $30 million operating budget. With the change of government in May, the previous budget for 2015 has been rescinded, and an Interim Supply Act (Bill 3) will be in place once passed (seemingly an inevitability given a majority governement) to fund day-to-day operations between July 1 and November 30.  A new budget is expected to be introduced in the fall.  What will happen to the planned MSI funding allocations for 2015-16 is currently unspecified.

Total 2015-16 MSI funding planned allocations (under rescinded 2015 budget) for:

  • Cardston - $793,973
  • Cardston County - $1,174,352
  • Claresholm - $775,242
  • Cowley - $165,949
  • Fort Macleod - $661,297
  • Glenwood - $169,407
  • Hill Spring - $157,993
  • Lethbridge - $14,729,214
  • Municipality of Crowsnest Pass - $1,677,585
  • MD of Pincher Creek No. 9 - $943,303
  • Town of Pincher Creek - $758,030
  • For planned MSI funding for other Alberta communities click here.

(MSI Capital Component +  BMTG Component Sub-Total + Operating Funding for 2015-16 = Total Funding.)

Said Stier: "Last week a major concern was raised at a joint meeting of the mayors and reeves of southern Alberta regarding sustainable, continued support for communities through MSI funding.  The members are worried because they’ve received no updated information from this new government regarding any funding promises since those proposed by the former PC government. To the minister: considering that the amount of MSI funding given to the communities has traditionally been communicated prior to the fall, when they prepare their budgets for the following year, will you commit now to maintaining the MSI funds promised by the last government for ’15-16?"

Minister of Municipal Affairs Deron Bilous responded, in part, "You know, this government was elected on wanting to support our cities, our municipalities to ensure that they have the tools and resources available to deliver the services that Albertans rely on. I appreciate that the municipalities in question have been patient. I ask them to be a little bit more patient. This government will be ensuring that grants get to them."

That response was not satisfactory to Stier.  "You know, our local decision-makers really deserve a better answer than that, Minister," he said.  "The Municipal Government Amendment Act, which has now been given royal assent, that we passed in March, requires municipalities to prepare three-year financial plans and five-year capital plans. To the Minister of Municipal Affairs again, then: how can municipalities possibly prepare financial plans and capital plans when they don’t know how much MSI funding the government intends to give them before the fall?"

Bilious responded, saying "Yesterday the Finance minister tabled the interim supply bill, which today we will be debating, so the member and municipalities will be able to see what this government is proposing as far as the dollars for MSI and for many of the other important grants that municipalities get."

Stier continued to prod for a more definite response.  "The mayors and reeves of southern Alberta as well as municipal leaders from across the province, frankly, have sent the minister a letter demanding that at the time of the release of the ’15-16 budget this fall MSI funding intentions for the next year also be fully disclosed. To the minister: local decision-makers need to know how much MSI funding they’ll be getting in order to plan for the future, not what is in the interim supply. Will you communicate this vital information to them today?"

"Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, I think it would be irresponsible to make promises before this government has actually deliberated on a budget and decided exactly how we’re going to go moving forward," replied Bilious.  "I appreciate that municipalities are very eager to get answers. I can tell you that the Premier, this government, and myself are committed to ensuring that municipalities have the resources and the tools available to ensure that they can provide services to their constituents. So I ask the member and municipalities to be patient, and the answer will be forthcoming."

Related links/sources:
2015-16 MSI allocations

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