Winter is coming.
To borrow a term from Game of Thrones, it is clear the county must prepare for a new reality of fiscal restraint.
On Sept. 25 at the Alberta Urban Municipal Association (AUMA) conference, municipal officials, including those of us in Strathcona County, heard loud and clear Strathcona County must be prepared for significant changes to the funding model we live in.
For Strathcona County, that will mean we must prepare for a significant decrease to provincial operating grants and capital funding. While Strathcona County may be less reliant than many other municipalities on the provincial government grants for operations, a cut to those grant funds will likely be in the millions of dollars.
The province is working off the McKinnon Report recommendations that are expected to guide future provincial budgets. The reality we must face, as Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu stated; “There is no question that we are facing significant challenges across our province,” and that municipalities must “share in the recovery.”
This means we may see some services previously funded by the province now downloaded onto the county to deliver. It also means the County must be prepared to re-evaluate our priorities to ensure we are fiscally prudent in our decisions.
I bring this up because the county will be entering budget discussions after the province releases its budget on Oct. 24 and decisions made by the provincial government will force Strathcona County to adjust our budget.
Your council has long joined the AUMA and Rural Municipalities Association in advocating for a legislated, predictable funding model so municipalities are not subjected to drastic year-to-year changes, like what we will face this year. That isn’t meant to blame the current provincial government; in fact, just the opposite, as they only assumed the reins in April. I hope municipal governments like ours know there is only one taxpayer, and all funds we do receive, whether they come from the provincial government, federal government, or from local residents and businesses via property taxes, come from somewhere — your wallet.
Council saw this reality coming. Coun. Bill Tonita brought forward a series of motions over the past few months with an eye on this future. In July, Councillor Tonita brought forward a motion that called for administration to bring forward a budget that assumed reduced provincial funding, and while specific targets were removed from that motion during the debate, I was pleased to have supported the overall motion. Further, on Sept. 24, I was pleased to join the rest of council to support Councillor Tonita’s motion to review and look for opportunities to reduce red tape in Strathcona County with the goal of streamlining departmental operations and to identify efficiencies in order to improve the business climate within the county.
Given the financial reality the province faces, and the pressure that will put on Strathcona County to streamline operations, it is critical the county become as efficient as possible to minimize the impacts this economic reality will have on your wallet, as well as on the frontline services residents count on come tax time.
I am not prepared to single out any individual projects or programs that must be reviewed; however, this reality will come in to focus on the upcoming Municipal Operating and Capital Budget. The four-year operating as well as the five-year capital budget that council passed in December 2018 will be reviewed as part of the budget, and I will recommend we take a long look at that list to ensure council minimizes the impact on residents’ wallets.
This will make for what will likely be a challenging budget season in council chambers this November. It will be critical we closely review our spending, including a strong review of county priorities as it may be a reality that we must delay some “nice to have” projects until such time as county finances are in a position to support them.
The reality is Winter is Coming and unlike a TV show that can overcome winter with a CGI dragon and some clever writing, we must prepare for it and govern ourselves accordingly.
Coun. Robert Parks represents Strathcona County Ward 1. You can follow Coun. Parks on Twitter @RobertParks247 or on Facebook at ParksInWardOne. Residents can contact him by calling 780-464-8005 or by emailing email@example.com.