LAKELAND – Municipal leaders in the Lakeland have expressed their initial reactions to the provincial budget, tabled on Feb. 28 by Alberta Minister of Finance Travis Toews.
Overall, City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland considers Budget 2023 a “conservative” budget. “They’re putting money to pay down their debt, so it’s always positive for future generations.”
Lac Lac Biche County Mayor Paul Reutov shares a similar sentiment, stating the budget is “good” but not necessarily “great,” calling it a “fiscally conservative” budget.
Town of Bonnyville Mayor Elisa Brosseau says her initial reaction to the budget “is that it was very predictable, and nothing jumped out at me. It very much is a budget with an up-and-coming election in mind."
Revenue and expenses
Alberta is estimating a revenue of $70.7 billion, $5.4 billion lower compared to the 2022-2023 forecast. Tax revenue is forecast to contribute 35 per cent of the total revenue at $24.5 billion.
Natural resources revenue is estimated to contribute $18.3 billion to the total 2023-24 revenue, $9 billion lower than the 2022-23 forecast.
According to the provincial government, the resource revenue forecast is based on the expected trends for oil and natural gas prices, which are predicted to weaken in the next three years.
The forecast anticipates a decrease in prices in 2023-24 resulting in declining royalties for bitumen, conventional crude oil, natural gas, and by-products. By 2025-26, a resource revenue of $15.7 billion is forecast.
On the other hand, total expenses are expected to be $68.3 billion this year, which is $2.6 billion higher than the previous year.
This brings the provincial government a projected surplus of $2.4 billion for 2023-24.
The healthcare budget is a major highlight of Alberta’s 2023 budget.
The province increased its health operating expenses by $965 million, an increase of four per cent compared to 2022, adding up to a total of $24.5 billion for 2023. The funding includes $4.2 billion over three years for health care related infrastructure.
For rural communities, $105 million will go toward the Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program over three years, with additional funding of $75 million to “support new capital projects in rural Alberta,” according to information from the Government of Alberta.
To support physician recruitment and retention in rural communities, there will be funding of $12 million toward the Rural Remote Northern Program.
Copeland is encouraged by the increased funding toward rural healthcare. He credited Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson and Alberta Minister of Health Jason Copping for recognizing rural health care “needs help.”
Copeland is hopeful the additional funding to rural healthcare will help the City of Cold Lake particularly with mental health and addiction issues, in addition to the recruitment of more healthcare workers - both doctors and nurses.
“It’s encouraging,” he said.
Reutov says the budget is a move in the right direction as far as healthcare is concerned. “Our biggest concern in rural communities is health care and I’m glad that they’ve listened and added a considerable budget for it.”
As for how it will be distributed, “we’ll wait and see,” says Reutov.
In a statement to Lakeland This Week, Town of Bonnyville Elisa Brosseau is also pleased with the increase of funding toward healthcare.
“[Healthcare] is a top concern for many citizens and municipalities. The budget goes even further in clearly identifying the need to improve health services in rural communities, and we know that rural and urban health services are vastly different, as such, should have different funding allocations,” says Brosseau.
In terms of infrastructure, Reutov believes northern Alberta has been neglected “for so long that we need major dollars just to catch up to things,” let alone improve.
When it comes to utilities for small towns and municipalities like Lac La Biche, Reutov says, “We’re investing millions of dollars in replacing 70-year-old water lines.”
“A lot of resources that Alberta benefits from comes from our area - the oil sands and the energy sector,” for example, he notes. “The resources get drawn from our area and yet very little is returned to our area.”
Copeland also spoke of his concerns regarding infrastructure funding, particularly with Alberta Highway 28. “In terms of roads, I don’t see Highway 28 [in the budget]... and that’s really concerning,” he said. “It’s tragic that we can’t get any traction on [Highway 28].”
Copeland echoed Reutov’s thoughts, stating northern Alberta is an oil sands region producing “a ton of royalties for the province and the federal government," so for Highway 28, the “main transportation route” to not be considered is “extremely” disappointing.
“We’re hoping that it’s there [in Alberta’s three-year capital plan] but I can’t find it – and that’s really concerning,” said Copeland.
Budget 2023 funding for roads and highways in northern Alberta includes $60.5 million for the replacement of Vinca Bridge in Stugeon County, $117 million for the twinning of Highway 63 north of Fort McMurray, and $84.1 million for Highway 40 twinning south of Grande Prairie.
As for the County of St. Paul, Reeve Glen Ockerman offered a few comments, as far as potential funding coming to the region. “The County is waiting on grant announcements on a number of programs to see if we can move forward with several projects and most importantly a bridge replacement,” said the reeve.
On a positive note, Ockerman says that as part of Budget 2023, increases in the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) will help the County continue to support local organizations and community groups operate their facilities, along with supporting local libraries.
MSI helps municipalities build and rehabilitate infrastructure such as roadways and bridges, water and wastewater systems, public transit facilities, and recreation and sport facilities, according to information from the Government of Alberta.
Once Budget 2023 is passed, the following Lakeland municipalities (listed in order) will be allocated the following MSI funds: the Town of Bonnyville will get $849,160, the MD of Bonnyville will see $2.83 million, the City of Cold Lake will receive $1.87 million, the specialized municipality of Lac La Biche will be allocated $1.84 million, the Town of St. Paul will see $1.1 million, and the County of St. Paul will get $1.35 million.
A few concerns
Ockerman shared a few other initial concerns regarding the budget, which includes the future of policing in the province, as well as the continued three-year tax holiday, where new wells and pipelines will not be taxed until 2025.
“The Minister of Municipal Affairs alluded this may continue, which would be detrimental to rural municipalities,” said Ockerman.
Ockerman also said that it “looks like there are some increases in both FCSS and ASB (Family and Community Support Services and Agricultural Service Board Grant), which is appreciated.”
“As more information comes out regarding the budget, I am sure we will have more thoughts about the budget,” concluded Ockerman.
The Chief Financial Officer for the Town of St. Paul, Mitchel Bachelet, said that the Town is still reviewing the provincial budget to determine its potential impact on the Town’s 2023 budget.