Premier Alison Redford had assured us that she would not be downloading any financial difficulties to the municipalities. I have examined the budget quite carefully, and I participated in a conference call with Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths and Transportation Minister Ric McIver the day after the budget was brought down. I disagree!
Here are some of my concerns regarding this budget and how it affects our little municipality.
- STEP (or, Summer Temporary Employment Program) was a grant so that we may hire students to work for the village over the summer. It's been scrapped! This means that if the village wishes to hire students this summer, it will have to come up with the money itself.
- The Municipal Sustainability Initiative grants are continuing at their existing rate for this year, however the future of that program is in jeopardy. We used this program to upgrade the first block of our Main Street. We were hoping that this program would continue so we may be able to upgrade the remainder of Main Street.
- I was unable to ascertain the future of the Seniors' Property Tax Assistance Program. It will exist for 2013 but after that it's anyone's guess. The program gave some tax relief to some seniors who have been caught by MVA (Market Value Assessment) and are, in my opinion, paying far more in property taxes than they should be. Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths' office said they would find out what was happening here and get back to me.
- Transportation Minister Ric McIver told us that almost all smaller projects have been put on indefinite hold. Beiseker relies on those smaller projects! But I hope the agreed changes to Highway 72 (North Road) will still go ahead this spring!
- The Water For Life program has been drastically reduced, but I understand the province will continue to fund accepted projects at the 90% level. You will recall that Beiseker's regional water system (called Aqua 7 Regional Water Service Commission) was originally funded about 40% by the province. Looks like there's not much money to help us out, there!
- There was no relief mentioned for small municipalities who have to pay their Education Portion of the property taxes in full to the provincial government -- even though they haven't collected that money yet! Beiseker has around $250,000 owing in unpaid taxes but the province still yanks tens of thousands of dollars out of our account for the Education portion. No questions, no comments, no deferral; nothing!
- I'm worried that over the next twelve months, other small programs and grants will be discontinued while the provincial government goes through its belt-tightening. If Beiseker wishes these programs to continue, the money will have to come from our property tax pockets!
I hope we'll get more details in the weeks to come.