The City of Airdrie will receive a portion of the $1.1 billion the Alberta government has dedicated to supporting municipalities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Mayor Peter Brown, the City will receive slightly more than $8.3 million from the Municipal Stimulus Package (MSP), which will go toward five shovel-ready projects.
“[The 40th Avenue interchange] is obviously the top one.... The determination on what project goes first is still not determined yet, but we’ll hopefully have an announcement in the next [week] or so,” he said.
Premier Jason Kenney announced the stimulus package at a July 28 press conference in Edmonton.
“The $1.1 billion includes $500 million that Alberta’s government has already committed in our recovery plan to get hundreds of shovel-ready infrastructure projects underway, and thousands of Albertans working on them,” he told reporters, adding the $500 million MSP will create roughly 2,500 project-specific jobs.
The other $600 million, the premier added, comes from the Safe Restart Agreement (SRA), a new partnership between the government of Alberta and the federal government meant to help municipalities maintain public services as they maneuver through the pandemic. SRA will see the provincial government match $233 million in federal funding to support municipal operating costs and $70 million to support public transit operations.
Kenney acknowledged the stimulus package represents an “eye-popping” amount of taxpayer-funded money, and that the provincial deficit for this year is expected to come in at more than $20 billion. He said the provincial government predicts the unemployment rate is currently above 20 per cent in Alberta.
“Let’s remember that today’s deficits are tomorrow’s taxes,” he said. “As I’ve said before, all of this will lead to a great fiscal reckoning.
“But if we don’t get people back to work and if we don’t restore investor confidence and get our economy growing again, the fiscal challenge will become insurmountable.”
As per the announcement, municipal governments and Métis settlements in Alberta can immediately start applying to the Province for MSP funding to build roads, bridges, wastewater treatment plants and other infrastructure projects for construction in 2020 or 2021.
Beside the MSP funds, Brown said the City will receive between $220,000 and $250,000 from SRA to support Airdrie Transit operations.
“Obviously, we had to cut our transit lines to Calgary for a while, and local transit was free, so we lost a lot of revenue,” Brown said.
The City will also collect an unspecified amount of SRA funding to cover some of the operating costs the municipality has accrued due to the pandemic, Brown said.
“We’re not certain of the amount yet, but any help at all is going to be very well received,” he said. “But we want to sincerely thank the Province for recognizing the importance of getting people back to work, the importance of supporting the transit process and recognizing that municipalities are operating at a deficit – and will probably continue to operate at a deficit for the balance of 2020.”
According to Brown, the City of Airdrie’s first-quarter financial update for 2020 revealed a roughly $3.5 million operating deficit. To put that in context, he said the City typically operates on a $1.5 million annual surplus.
“I know there have been some higher numbers and lower numbers, but that’s probably been the average," he said.
The second-quarter fiscal update – which will be presented to City council at a meeting Aug. 17 – will likely present a similar figure as the first quarter, Brown added.
“However, we’ve made some changes to our expenses [and] we’ve addressed issues with staffing,” he said.
“But it’s our operational [expenses] now. When you’re operating a massive facility like Genesis Place [Recreation Centre]…you’re turning the lights on, firing the pool up, but you don’t have two-thirds the visitors you normally would, just because of the restrictions of people coming and going. It certainly adds up very quickly.”