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Less provincial funding expected in upcoming budget, Mayor Cathy Heron says

“I think we all are aware and predict, and completely understand, that our main grant from the province, the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) will most likely see a significant cut,” said Heron.
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St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron has one word to describe her thoughts on the upcoming provincial budget: anxious.

“I would say municipalities and myself included, are anxious, I guess would be the right word," said Heron.

The 2021-22 provincial budget will be tabled on Feb. 25, the same day the winter/spring Legislative session resumes.

In a social media post, Premier Jason Kenney said the budget would be focused on "protecting the lives and livelihoods of Albertans.”

Heron said she is expecting to see less funding from the government this year.

“I think we all are aware and predict, and completely understand, that our main grant from the province, the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) will most likely see a significant cut,” said Heron.

The MSI program was launched by the government in 2007 as an infrastructure funding program that aimed to provide municipalities with operating and capital funding to support growth and sustainability needs. The program will be ending this year and it will be replaced with the Local Government Fiscal Framework.

St. Albert normally gets around $11 million from the MSI funding, Heron said.

“I'm predicting we'll see maybe 10% lower (in MSI funding) so it's a million dollars out of our pocket maybe more. So that just means that we can do less projects,” she said.

Heron said she has a few fears about the upcoming budget, one being that education property taxes will go up and the other being the fear of the unexpected.

“I am afraid that something will be buried on page 200 of the budget that will affect municipalities a lot," she said.

The city passed its municipal budget in December and Heron said they cross their fingers every spring when the provincial budget comes out with a hope and a prayer that the province will grant what they promised to grant.

“It's going to be interesting to see how much MSI gets cut,” she said.

Heron said she isn’t being critical of the UCP government as they have spent a lot of money to help municipalities with projects during the pandemic.

At the end of July, the government announced $500 million to municipalities for capital projects – similar to MSI funding – to help create jobs and stimulate the economy. St. Albert received $7.8 million in capital stimulus funds.

The funds have gone toward a few projects, said Heron. Projects in the works include upgrading the intersection at Boudreau Rd. and Bellerose Dr. because of high traffic volumes. There will also be $1 million going toward a roundabout at Everett and Ebony to increase safety at that intersection.

“The biggest chunk of the money is going to provide servicing – water, wastewater and storm – over to Lakeview Business District and recreation lands on the west side of Ray Gibbon Drive,” she said.

Heron said that district will be another Campbell/Riel type area.

“I think the last time we looked, it might be close to 500 jobs that we could be creating out there. I think we completely achieved what the province was asking us to do with that stimulus money,” she said.

Heron has hopes for the upcoming budget, including something to help the city tackle homelessness.

“I've been trying really hard to get St. Albert to recognized as a city that requires homeless operating dollars,” she said.

Currently, only seven cities receive provincial funding to community-based organizations to help support homeless priorities.

“St. Albert would be the eighth next largest city in Alberta, and we don't get any money. So, it's really hard for us to take care of our vulnerable,” she said.

Heron is also hoping for equity and fairness across the board as there are a lot of departments and they are all asking for money.

“I think I would hope to see that each one of those departments, whether it be health, education, municipal affairs, transportation, are all treated quite equally and then maybe a bigger focus on the social services,” she said.