Lobbying efforts by Mayor Jeff Genung and the mid-sized cities appear to be paying off for Alberta municipalities.
While there was no increase in the capital funding for Alberta municipalities in the 2023-24 provincial budget, promising news is on the horizon, says Mayor Jeff Genung.
During a conference call with Municipal Affairs minister Rebecca Schultz yesterday, municipal leaders were told the province will introduce 1:1 index funding in the 2024-25 budget.
"Originally they were saying that they would see a ratio of 50-50, so that if the increase of the economy went up a certain amount then we would get half of that. Now they're saying, OK, we've heard you, it's going to be a one-to-one factor, which is great news."
Genung explains that when times are good, the provincial will share the prosperity with the municipalities on a 1:1 ratio when the economy reaches a certain level. When the provincial economy is in a downturn, it will be the other way around.
"That was good that they acknowledged that. It would forecast a 12.6 per cent increase for Alberta's communities in next year's budget, which is super positive," says Genung.
He says the calculations would be based upon the last three budget years and will provide reliable funding for municipalities, something that is among the needs expressed by Alberta Mid-Sized Cities Mayors' Caucus, which Genung chairs.
Currently, communities receive capital funding through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative. A new formula called Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) is being introduced in 2024.
Schultz assured municipal leaders they would not see a decrease in capital funding, something that was widely feared by the mid-sized cities. Based upon the initial version of the funding formula, communities like Cochrane believed they would receive a 25 per cent reduction in capital funding.
"She spoke today (Mar. 1) that there's going to be transitional fund, so that when we do transition to a new formula, there would not be a reduction of these funds. That's very good news," says Genung.
While there is no increase in capital funding this year, there is an increase in the MSI operational cost component. Genung says the town will be receiving an additional $225,000, largely to battle inflationary conditions.
Mayor Genung has been constantly advocating for improvements in municipal funding both for Cochrane and the mid-sized cities. He's made representation several times to Minister Schultz as well as others, including NDP leader Rachel Notley.
Additionally. Genung continues to reach out to other ministries to advocate for Cochrane's specific needs. Transportation and senior housing are currently at the top of the list.
"That's why I do those things, so we're in the thoughts and minds of provincial decision-makers. That's the whole key."
Schultz spoke highly of Cochrane during the conference call.
"She went on and on about Cochrane, the Community Revitalization Levy and the success that Cochrane has seen, and how other communities should look at what we're doing and following suit. She mentioned Garmin, the expansion, and the jobs. It was a good moment for us as we were listening and all our colleagues across the province got to hear how great we are in Cochrane."
During the budget address, town officials paid particular attention to healthcare spending.
"We're happy to see increased spending in health areas," says Genung, "so hopefully that translates to more doctors, less wait times at the hospital, and an improvement in EMS response times. That's to be determined, but at least they are acknowledging that they need to spend more money in that regard."
Genung says many residents have been reaching out to him about Cochrane missing the list of communities receiving new schools. Most local schools are near or overcapacity.
While this is in the hands of Alberta Education and RVS, the town understands the pressing need. It has ensured as many school sites as possible are shovel-ready to help clear the way for Alberta Education.
Town officials are in the early stages of dissecting the massive provincial budget estimates and their impact on Cochrane, a process that is expected to take some time.