The Village of Alix council all voiced concern about the provincial government’s finances as they debated their 2021 interim operating budget at their regular meeting Nov. 18.
Village Chief Administrative Officer Michelle White stated the interim budget included three years, 2021, ’22 and ’23, as required by the Municipal Government Act.
She stated the draft had been updated to correct some debenture payment numbers.
Mayor Rob Fehr stated he was more than a bit worried about how the provincial government’s finances are going to affect the Village fo Alix’ budget.
He noted a letter from Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard that has apparently been sent to every municipality in Alberta, and that seems a bit gloomy.
Allard’s letter stated, “As you are aware, our province is facing some very challenging economic circumstances. Resource revenues are lower than they were in the early 1970s, while expenses are higher than anticipated due to the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This will cause financial challenges that will be felt for many years.
“In light of these economic circumstances, Alberta may not be able to sustain our current levels of infrastructure and operating spending.
“We are already planning for Budget 2021; there will be some difficult choices the province must make to ensure Alberta’s finances are sustainable over the long term.”
Mayor Fehr stated the more he pored over the letter, the more apprehensive he became.
“We know that when the other shoe drops, it’s going to get ugly,” said Fehr.
When looking over the draft operating budget, Fehr wondered if the village was getting ahead of itself by approving the interim operating budget and whether councillors should take a second look to reduce spending.
“I don’t want to rush anything yet,” said Fehr. “I’m a little nervous. I’m a lot nervous.”
Coun. Ed Cole stated he felt the same way when he read Allard’s letter. He stated that with “a semi-anti-oil president” soon to take the White House, Alberta’s energy industry could face even more adversity.
Cole stated he wouldn’t be surprised to see more cuts to government grants, especially federal ones. “We’re going to have to make some hard decisions,” said Cole.
White stated the main federal grant Alix receives is the Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant which goes to the arena, and this year added up to $19,000, with 2021 expected to be less at $18,000.
White stated there’s talk that the MSI grant might be phased out anyway.
White also stated the provincial government requires municipalities to have an interim operating budget approved before Jan. 1, 2021 but pointed out the final budget isn’t approved until spring, so there would still be time to revise once the provincial government’s problems are more clear.
Coun. Vicki Soltermann agreed with Fehr and Cole, stating Alix council should be prepared to re-examine its budget and focus on basics such as water, sewer and roads.
Councillors discussed holding the interim operating budget for now, examining it for more areas to reduce spending and hold a special council meeting in Dec. to approve it.
Coun. Tim Besuijen asked if waiting a few weeks will make much difference when council can make adjustments next spring.
Fehr responded he feels the next few weeks could be quite important for the provincial government and Alix should be prepared to reduce spending in every non-essential department.
Besuijen stated he felt that at most council should talk about the draft budget at the Dec. 2 council meeting and consider changes next spring, as special council meetings cost taxpayer money.
Coun. Cole stated he hopes the public is aware that fiscal times are not that great.
Councillors unanimously approved the interim operating budget.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter