Today, the Government of Alberta will release the 2014 provincial budget. I, alongside with my municipal colleagues, wait to see the impacts on our own local budgets that will no doubt be felt once the provincial budget is set. Municipalities and the Province have close working relationships.
Our roles and responsibilities are at times clearly defined from each other and at other times closely intertwined. Both levels of government need to be mindful of taxation and spending levels, however our primary duty is to invest money into programs, services and capital projects that support and enhance the lives all Albertans.
So, with that in mind, I would like to share with you my ‘wish list’ for Blackfalds from the 2014 provincial budget.
1. Capital funding from the Water for Life program for the north leg of the Regional Waste Water pipeline to Red Deer. This $40 million project is a regional project for the City of Lacombe, Town of Blackfalds and Lacombe County.
By piping wastewater to Red Deer for treatment, better environmental outcomes can be achieved.
Lacombe and Blackfalds have been making decisions and local investments for the past seven years to make this pipeline a reality. We now need the financial support of the Province.
2. Schools, schools, schools! While one school was checked off the wish list in the spring of 2013 and should be open September 2016, Blackfalds has multiple needs.
The current elementary school is on the Wolf Creek Public School capital plan for a complete modernization, the Catholic division has a desire to build a local school and the ongoing drive to have a high school in Blackfalds continues.
With 1,000 kids under the age of five and 31% of our population under age 18, investing in schools is a wise decision.
3. Growing MSI dollars alongside our growing community. The Municipal Sustainability Initiative is a funding program that allows communities to direct dollars to local priorities. The program has two parts, capital and operating.
Blackfalds is directing its capital dollars from 2010 to 2017 to the Abbey Centre.
It is my hopes that 2014 Provincial Budget will recognize the population growth of Blackfalds, and in turn, see the MSI grow as well.
4. Increases to the Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) budgets are desperately needed. For the past number of years, the Provincial FCSS Budget has not seen any increases. This budget area supports local social services programming. Blackfalds has particularly suffered in this area, as the budget has not grown to match the population increase and subsequent growth in demand for service, nor has it grown to match any inflationary increases in the program delivery.
The standard FCSS funding arrangement is supposed to be 80% provincial, a 20% local split. Currently Blackfalds’ local contribution is 60% of the budget. Investments in the FCSS program can pay huge dividends, as early intervention, education and local support are much less costly then crisis services.
5. My final wish for Budget 2014 is that if any structural or procedural changes are made, that consultation and phased approaches are used to make those changes.
In 2013, Blackfalds and other high growth communities were affected by a change in the formula for calculating education property taxes. This change came three months after the local annual budget had been set and left our community scrambling to address a significant increase to education property taxes.
I know our MLAs are all working very hard to meet a diverse list of needs and demands in the context of the provincial budget. I wish them the best in the debate over Budget 2014 and remind them that our local communities are always a wise investment.
Melodie Stol is the mayor of Blackfalds.