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OPINION: Calgary 1 - Every Other Alberta Municipality 0

Photo from Calgary Flames Twitter

The Calgary Events Centre Deal has bee a hot topic in the province of Alberta, and the City of Calgary for the past few years. And this week's announcement from the Province, the City, and other stakeholders of a $1.2 billion project involving the construction of a new NHL arena and surrounding commercial and residential development in the downtown area of Calgary has – locally of course – win win win splashed across it!

The city is potentially on the hook for $537.3 million. The Flames is pledging $356 million. and the province will kick in a total of $330 million.

While this project has been touted as a major win for the city of Calgary, it has also led to questions being raised by other municipalities across the province.

These questions are centered around the issue of municipal funding, and whether or not other communities across the province are receiving their fair share of public investment.

Councillor Erin Stevenson of Spruce Grove brought math into play when asking about other municipal funding, “If my math is correct, Calgary has 1.4 million residents. At $330m, that’s about $236/person they’re receiving. Should Spruce Grove, pop 40,000, expect to receive $9.428m as an announcement soon towards our twin arena/library/art gallery/box theatre centre? Am I doing this right?”

Innisfil Mayor Jean Barclay took to twitter after the announcement stating, “We need a new aquatic centre at a fraction of the cost.”

Councillor Katie Berghofer tweeted, “Strathcona County should get $23,690,152 with our population. Is the cheque in the mail?”

Twitter – in only Twitter fashion – quickly jumped on the councillors for not realizing that the money the province was putting up wasn’t for the arena deal itself but for infrastructure upgrades around the new arena.

In one epic of a takedown – in my opinion – Councillor Stevenson shot back and said “How’s this then, I would like 9.428m to go towards the roads, utilities, transit hub and other infrastructure pieces we need for our civic centre (that isn’t just an arena).”

The Calgary Events Centre Deal has been seen by some as a costly and unnecessary expense, particularly in light of the current economic climate in Alberta. Many can argued that the money would be better spent on other public projects, such as infrastructure improvements, social programs, and affordable housing.

However, supporters of the deal have argued that the new arena and associated development will bring significant economic benefits to the city, generating jobs and revenue and boosting the local economy.

Regardless of the merits of the deal itself, it is clear that the issue of municipal funding is a complex and contentious one in Alberta.

Municipalities across the province are facing significant financial pressures, with many struggling to provide basic services and maintain infrastructure in the face of declining revenues. This has led to a growing sense of resentment and frustration among many communities, who feel that they are being left behind in the race for economic development and prosperity.

In a March 1st News Release from Alberta Municipalities about the recent 2023 Alberta Provincial Budget the organization states, “Where this budget falls short is in the allocation of funding to address Alberta’s growing infrastructure deficit. Alberta communities face a $30 billion infrastructure deficit. Put simply, Alberta’s municipalities own 60 per cent of the infrastructure, but they received just 1.0 per cent of this provincial budget. Many Albertans will be surprised to learn that per-capita provincial funding to municipalities has declined by 61 per cent since 2011.”

So, what is the solution to this problem? How can we ensure that municipal funding is distributed fairly and equitably, taking into account the needs and priorities of all communities across the province?

One of the reasons that the Calgary Events Centre Deal has generated so much controversy is that it is seen as a significant investment in a single industry – professional sports – at a time when many other sectors of the economy are struggling.

By diversifying our economic base and investing in a range of different industries, we can help to create a more resilient and sustainable economy, one that is less vulnerable to the ups and downs of individual sectors.

In addition to these broader policy solutions, there are also more immediate steps that can be taken to address the issue of municipal funding in Alberta. For example, the provincial government could establish a more transparent and equitable system for distributing funding to municipalities, one that takes into account factors such as population size, economic activity, and infrastructure needs.

Now government officials would say that the province in their most recent budget did just that. They changed the MSI funding to the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) funding which will be more predictable and more sustainable for all municipalities.

But that wasn’t good enough for one of the Municipal organizations in Alberta. Alberta Municipalities stated, “(We’re) is disappointed with the starting amount of $722 million set for the new (LGFF) baseline capital funding for 2024-25.”

With just over 344 municipalities in the province that new funding for 2024-25 would if split equally – which upfront it won't be – would see about $2-Millions dollars for each Municipality in the province.

Some might see that as a massive win, whereas others like Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat would see that as a massive clawback to what they usually get.

Ultimately, the issue of municipal funding in Alberta is a complex and multifaceted one, and there is no easy solution. However, by working together and taking a coordinated and collaborative approach, we can help to ensure that all communities across the province receive their fair share of public investment and that we create a more inclusive and sustainable economy for all.

And with a coming election and with all eyes – unfortunately in my opinion – on Calgary. Calgarians get ready to see promise after promise from both major parties, and other communities outside the Calgary bubble get ready to see the scraps.

Until next time, Just Keep Talking!

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