“You can’t wring money from a stone”.
That was the response Premier Kenney provided when asked by the Rural Municipalities Association (RMA) for help with a massive shortfall facing their members.
According to the RMA, oil and gas companies owe about $173 million in property taxes to rural municipalities.
This comes after the province sliced property tax assessments for shallow gas producers by 35 per cent last year.
That will continue this year.
This comes after the Alberta Government trumpeted the addition of 300 RCMP officers in a “partnership” between the province, Federal Government and rural municipalities.
The problem is that the province isn’t providing any money.
Instead, they are downloading the cost to municipalities.
It is unclear how many new officers will go to each detachment.
More money doesn’t necessarily mean more boots on the ground.
Larger centres won’t feel the pinch of additional policing costs, but they will be heavily impacted by a 48 per cent increase in the amount of fine revenue the province takes (it was 27 per cent, now 40 per cent).
It’s estimated that this will cost the City of Camrose $250,000.
Plus the amount of money the province provides municipalities to assist with infrastructure has been reduced as the MSI program is phased out to be replaced by a long term funding framework.
This change is being made despite the commitments many municipalities have already made to multi-year capital projects.
Alberta’s two largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary signed City Charters with the previous government.
Those Charters have both been cancelled despite the promise by the UCP to keep them in place.
This is not how a province works. Investors don’t see a jurisdiction ripping up agreements as a stable investing environment.
Further, the financial challenges municipalities are facing may force some to throw in the towel and dissolve.
The UCP government vowed to work together with municipalities if they formed government.
Unfortunately, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu has traded barbs in the media on a regular basis with the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary.
There is a better way to make this relationship work.
We need to build bridges and strengthen relationships to help all Albertans get through the tough times ahead.
Alberta needs a fresh approach.
Alberta Party Critic for Municipal Affairs