Uncertainty surrounds provincial funding to municipalities

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SANDRA M STANWAY
Brooks Bulletin

The end of the provincial Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) program has created uncertainty for capital projects in Brooks.
That was a message from city mayor Barry Morishita at last Friday’s State of the City address hosted by the Brooks and District Chamber of Commerce.
MSI was originally set up in 2007 as a 10-year program to help communities with amounts determined by a number of factors including linear roads, population and education property tax requisitions.
The annual municipal allotments are traditionally released following the provincial budget.
Morishita told a group of about 30 people the province has not allocated any money for Brooks through MSI as of 2022.
In fact, there is no allocation of funds for any community except for Calgary and Edmonton which signed the City Charters Fiscal Framework Act with the province effective 2022.
Each city will receive $250 million in the first year and a revenue sharing component will increase as provincial revenue and fuel sales grow.
“What that resulted in was a 21 per cent drop in support from the 2017 level,” Morishita said.
Final payments to municipalities are expected in 2021, however, no replacement program has been announced.
Community leaders have urged the province to replace the MSI program with predictable funding to allow municipalities to complete multiyear budgets as directed in the Municipal Government Act.
In 2017 Brooks received $2.1 million in the MSI capital component and in 2018 the city received $1.1 million. In 2014 the province began adding the federal funded Basic Municipal Transportation Grant (BMTG) to MSI allocation.
MSI funds in the city have been used for projects such as the JBS Canada Centre expansion which would have otherwise had to be supported through municipal taxes.
The reduction or disappearance of MSI or a replacement project could result in cutting back or slowing down capital projects and could lead to non-maintained roads which ultimately makes a community less livable.
In the area of education, Morishita said it is also supported by taxpayers to the province.
He said it is justifiable but there is a disagreement that the $2.4 billion collected is based on a community’s assessment which means it should be subject to accountability.
Within its mid-city peer group of 22 municipalities Morishita said, Brooks has the lowest service per capita and the lowest service costs.
As AUMA president, he said he is trying to untether himself from the province.
“If it was up to me I would have a lot less to do with them. There would be a lot less conditional things placed on me and a lot less unconditional transfers so communities can determine their own things,” he said.
When asked what the city is going to do about businesses and their taxes he said there is no strategy.
“I think one of the problems we have is a broad based policy that would apply to everybody,” he said.
Chamber president Cindy Slenders urged Morishita to include the city’s businesses in discussions before any decisions are made for the 2019 tax rates which are typically completed by the end of April.