Airdrie residents will have to wait before funding is secured for some of the city’s big-ticket provincial items, such as the 40 Avenue interchange.
The United Conservative Party’s first provincial budget, tabled Oct. 24, calls for a 2.8 per cent cut in overall program spending over four years, including a nine per cent reduction to the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) program by 2021-22.
The MSI program, which launched in 2007, according to the government’s website, provides municipalities with funding for large capital projects, such as roadways and bridges, public transit facilities and wastewater infrastructure upgrades.
In 2020-21, MSI funding will be reduced by $94 million, and another $142 million in 2021-22 – an overall reduction of $236 million.
Palki Biswas, the City of Airdrie’s team lead for budget and financial planning, said the budget has positives and negative impacts for the City.
“The operating portion of the budget was the good news, as it will have little to no effect on our operations for this 2019-20 budget year, with [Family Community and Support Services], policing and library funding all remaining stable,” she said. “The MSI funding is an unknown at this point. We know it will decrease in future years, but we don’t know by how much, specifically, for Airdrie.”
This year, according to Biswas, the City received $10.15 million in MSI funding.
“It will be up to council to decide what capital projects will be downsized or delayed,” she said.
Mayor Peter Brown said MSI funding is "imperative" for the City, as it is essentially a capital grant.
“The roadwork alone on Main Street was over $6 million," he said. "And we have to enhance the underpass at Luxstone, which has been quoted at upwards of $3- or $4-million. That money is imperative to moving forward.
"We’re hoping they’re not going to hit it too hard, but all evidence points to the contrary, that everyone is going to take a little bit less. We’ll have to see how that works out.”
Under the new MSI framework, known as the Local Government Fiscal Framework, municipalities will split a pot of $860 million starting in 2022-23, with large cities like Calgary and Edmonton sharing more than half.
The amount will be adapted each year to reflect half the percentage change in the province’s revenues. For instance, if provincial revenues drop by four per cent, MSI funding will drop by two per cent.
Biswas said there was no mention in this year’s budget of funding for the construction of the 40 Avenue overpass. She added the City will continue to lobby the provincial government with the hope of securing funding next April.
Brown said he met with Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver, a few weeks before the budget was tabled to discuss the project.
"He couldn’t divulge, at that point, if we were in the budget or not in the budget, so he suggested we have a follow-up meeting," he said. "He was absolutely adamant that project gets done. Obviously, that’s a good sign that we’ll be in the next upcoming budget. We’ll have to follow up with the minister in the next few weeks to see where that goes."
Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt said the specific projects that will receive financial support will not be known immediately. She acknowledged the 40 Avenue overpass is an “extremely important” project for the community.
“I definitely hear a lot about it as MLA, and I live in Airdrie,” she said. “Traffic is a frustration and it’s an issue, most certainly. [Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie] and I have done a lot of work advocating for this project, and I hope to see some positive results come out on the other end.”
An elected representative since 2015, Pitt said she has learned external factors can impact the province’s budgets.
“Anything can happen, and it can affect your budget in a meaningful way,” she said. “We are working hard to ensure we get new and more access to market for our oil projects. When we do that, it will have a significant impact on the budget.”
—With files from the St. Albert Gazette