April 13th, 2024

Alberta Municipalities says province lagging on infrastructure

By Southern Alberta Newspapers on March 5, 2024.

Alberta's municipalities advocacy group says the province is underfunding infrastructure in its budget and that costs will be downloaded to cities and towns, which then have to overtax its residents.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

The Alberta Municipalities organization has concerns about funding for infrastructure in the 2024 provincial budget and wants residents to realize the provincial portion of property tax bills will rise faster than that with cities’ control.

The organization represents municipalities where 85 per cent of Albertans live, and last fall called for a $1-billion increase for capital grants to fund construction.

That comes as a new program replaces the former Municipal Sustainability Initiative that will provide $722 million in the Local Government Fiscal Framework.

Alberta Municipalities wanted that funding to start at $1.75 billion, media was told on Friday.

“Provincial funding for community infrastructure has not kept pace with Alberta’s population growth, nor changes in inflation,” ABMunis staff said during a briefing.

“In 2011, the Government of Alberta was investing $420 per Albertan into municipal infrastructure programs but that has trended downward over the years and will only be $186 per capita in 2024.”

The organization says while it appears capital funding has significantly increased in this year’s proposed budget, tabled on Feb. 29, it is below average. In 2021-22 the province front-loaded a large portion of the remaining three years of MSI as the program wound down.

That “resulted in abnormally low funding in 2022-23 and 2023-24 leading into this year.”

LGFF Capital starts at the same three-year average – $722 million – which is higher than last year, but below the longer-term average.

Education property tax is also a concern, media were told. In 2023, ABMunis recommended that the province’s education tax amount should be maintained at $2.5 billion.

But the province will collect $229 million more from Albertans through property tax bills this year as it froze rates but will rise from higher assessment value.

ABMunis says this is a 9.2 increase on provincial education property taxes which will have to be collected by Alberta’s municipalities, putting more pressure on councils to collect that tax and address taxpayer concerns if taxes have to be raised even higher for municipal needs.

“Provincial investment in municipal infrastructure seems detached from population growth and inflation,” said Rachel De Vos, chief policy and advocacy officer of ABMunis. “Budget 2024-25 signals further downloading of the tax burden onto municipal governments and property taxpayers of Alberta.”

She said inflation is also cutting into every municipality’s purchasing power, De Vos added, citing “a 130 per cent increase in the cost of cement” to replace sidewalks.

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