Municipalities are coming together to advocate for increased infrastructure funding from the province following an action put forward by the City of St. Albert Thursday.
Local leaders in Alberta met in Calgary and online from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23 for the 2022 Association of Alberta Municipalities convention. Alberta Municipalities represents and advocates for Alberta’s urban communities.
During the convention, leaders voted on 19 resolutions which, if passed, would guide their advocacy to the provincial government on a variety of issues.
St. Albert Coun. Ken MacKay put forward a motion on behalf of the city to advocate for increased infrastructure funding from the province.
Currently, the provincial government transfers money to support municipal infrastructure needs through Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grants. This funding goes to repair, maintain, and replace (RMR) infrastructure, including bridges and roads.
In recent years, the province has cut back the MSI substantially. In March, Trevor Duley, St. Albert’s manager of government relations, told council the province's MSI cuts will amount to a loss of $4 million for the city annually.
The province has plans to replace the MSI with a new funding program called the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) in 2024. The LGFF would see an even further reduction in funding for municipalities, and is currently budgeted to bring in 40 per cent less annually than the MSI.
While the LGFF will be tied to Alberta's revenue growth, the municipal pot of money is currently set to grow at half the rate of the provincial government's growth in revenue.
The motion MacKay brought forward proposed Alberta Municipalities lobby the provincial government to grow the funding for the LGFF at a 1:1 ratio with provincial revenue.
“The LGFF is critical to achieve long-term municipal sustainability,” MacKay said. “However, it’s currently inadequately funded."
MacKay said municipalities receive approximately eight cents of every tax dollar generated by all orders of government, but are responsible for more than 60 per cent of public infrastructure “with very limited tools to raise revenue” other than through property taxes, grants, and user fees.
Les Spurgeon, councillor in the Town of Beiseker, expressed frustration with provincial cuts to municipal infrastructure funding.
“There’s no money for us to do anything in our village, like next to nothing,” Spurgeon said, noting the province is sitting with a surplus. “That’s not right … we should back this resolution and get the province to back off and give us some money so we can work.”
The resolution passed 449-29.
MacKay also moved a resolution that would advocate for Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis (AGLC) to expedite action on improvements to the province’s charitable gaming model.
Under the current model, charitable groups can conduct charity casinos after receiving licensing from the AGLC.
“For the most part, charitable organizations can only conduct casinos within the region assigned to them, which causes issues because some casinos perform much better than others and have shorter wait times,” MacKay said.
There are 19 casino facilities in Alberta, and charities are assigned to their nearest casino facility. However, there is a lengthy waiting period for these events due to the large volume of organizations and limited number of venues.
Not all charities are faced with the same wait times, however, and the wait varies by region. According to information attached with the resolution, the wait time recorded in 2019 for St. Albert was 31 months, while in Edmonton it's 23.
How much money charities can raise also varies by region. According to the resolution, “average high” fundraising efforts reach $77,486 in the Edmonton region, but only $18,011 in the St. Albert/Camrose region.
Within the larger cities of Edmonton and Calgary, only charities which are located within city borders and that provide province-wide services can receive a licence for casinos within these cities.
While the AGLC conducted a charitable gaming review from 2019-2021 examining issues with the model, changes have not been implemented.
“There is an opportunity to continue to advocate for the outcome that results in a more accurate model for charities across Alberta,” MacKay said
That motion also passed by a significant margin, 408-37.