Town of Stettler hears about belt-tightening from provincial government

·4 min read

Stettler town council read a letter from the acting Minister of Municipal Affairs which noted belt-tightening and fiscal restraint will be the order of the day for the next few years. The letter was read at the March 2 regular meeting of council.

Rick McIvor’s letter discussed the recently released 2021 provincial budget and how it was going to affect local municipalities.

“To begin with, I am pleased to tell you that Municipal Affairs is investing more than $1.7 billion overall to build stronger communities,” stated the minister.

“Those funds will deliver important programs and services and will support effective governance and preserve public safety. I must also acknowledge that, as a result of several factors, including falling revenues and the ongoing costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to reduce government spending in Alberta.

“Our goal is to do this while also continuing to provide significant infrastructure funding in the near term to support our economic recovery and help municipalities adjust to new levels of funding in future years.”

A topic of discussion not just at the Stettler council meeting but across central Alberta has been changes to the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grant program, which was apparently scheduled to be replaced soon by a new program. However, the provincial government has indicated that due to the economy and the pandemic, it was decided to stretch the MSI program for a few more years, with some changes.

Town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Greg Switenky pointed out it looks like MSI grants will go up slightly in 2021 and then drop noticeably in 2022 and 2023, which was confirmed by McIvor’s letter.

“Over the next three years, from 2021-24, as we all strive to live within our means, municipalities will receive about 25 per cent less in capital funding than they did in 2020- 21,” stated McIvor.

“In real terms, that means Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) capital funding will average $722 million a year over that time. To support continued economic recovery and stimulus efforts, more of that funding will be made available up front, and less in subsequent years.”

Switenky stated the roughly 25 per cent reduction would be the average over three years.

Councillors accepted the minister's letter for information.

Taxes owing

Councillors read an update on municipal taxes received as of Dec. 31, 2020, including an outstanding amount.

It was stated in the report current taxes outstanding to the Town of Stettler as of Dec. 31, 2020 was $634,537.67, compared to $177,531.29 for the same time in 2019.

Based on the 2020 property tax levy of $8,660,619.12, this equals 7.33 per cent left outstanding, stated the report.

Councillors accepted the report for information.

CAO report

Switenky stated in his regular report to council discussions are still ongoing about the community/school resource officer program, which is the Stettler RCMP officer who works at Clearview schools.

“(Staff participated in) ongoing CRO/SRO deliberations with community partners and the RCMP respecting the future of the school resource officer program, and how it could be structured financially and operationally for the benefit of all parties to a (new) agreement,” stated Switenky in his report.

Replace the RCMP?

Included in council’s agenda package was a news story from a daily Edmonton newspaper which included comments from a central Alberta politician decrying the provincial government’s examination of a new Alberta police force to replace the RCMP.

In the story Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin stated replacing the RCMP with an Alberta force would be expensive and complicated.

During discussion it was mentioned by staff that the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and Rural Municipalities Association (RMA) recently held a joint session that went over three hours and included about 600 elected officials and the impression was that there is not a lot of grassroots support for the idea of replacing the RCMP.

It was also noted at least one of the organizations conducted an online opinion poll on the question and about 91 per cent of people who responded were in favour of sticking with the RCMP.

Councillors accepted the report for information.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review