BOWDEN — Mayor Robb Stuart is pleased that the 2022 provincial budget is balanced, but he’s skeptical that it will provide much for his town.
According to the budget, presented Feb. 24, total provincial revenue is estimated to be $62.6 billion in 2022-23, $900 million higher than forecast for 2021-22.
Total expenses in 2022-23 are expected to be $62.1 billion; $2.8 billion less than 2021-22. That’s expected to result in a $511 million surplus.
It’s said to be the province’s first balanced budget since 2014-15.
While he applauds the fact that the provincial books are balanced, Stuart is concerned about the fact that the vast majority of the revenue obtained to do so is the result of skyrocketing oil prices, which can be very volatile.
“Just think where we would be if they hadn’t gone up. I hope they don’t look at it as a big windfall,” he said during an interview.
Despite the fact the province announced some major spending, Stuart saw little for Bowden.
"The big commitments are to the LRTs for Edmonton and Calgary – billions. It’s nice, but we’re trying to get a community bus working between Olds and Bowden and it struggles because they don’t give us funding for it,” he said.
In addition, as of Feb. 25, figures in the Alberta.ca website showed the Town of Bowden is expected to receive a total of $235,154 in Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding in 2022, including $154,133 in capital funding.
That’s sharply down from what the town received in 2021 when it was granted a total of $461,109 in MSI funding, including $305,688 for capital projects.
Just before the budget was brought down, Premier Jason Kenney announced $1.8 billion to renew and expand the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
He said $193 million will be spent over the next three years to add 200 new inpatient beds there, increasing capacity from 370 to 570 beds.
Stuart said that’s great, as many Bowden residents end up at that hospital at one time or another.
However, he noted the money is to be spent over several years and he worries about cost over-runs.
He noted that supply lines have been severely disrupted as a result of the pandemic.
“I know people who are building houses and they can’t get electrical wiring. The prices of all the building materials are going up,” he said.
He also wondered where the province will find the nurses and doctors to staff those extra beds, given that many nurses have quit the profession, due to pandemic pressures.
“But I see they did budget, supposedly, for $90 million to attract new family physicians to rural areas, which hopefully will benefit us,” Stuart said.
The budget includes the Alberta At Work program which provides more than $600 million in additional funding over the next three years for post-secondary education, skills training opportunities and employment programs.
However, Stuart doubts that will help Bowden businesses much.
He was surprised to hear that education requisitions are expected to rise by them 1.5 per cent.
“We budgeted a zero per cent for ours – if that's the same thing, the education taxes,” he said.
Stuart would have liked to have seen significant money for major infrastructure costs for projects like the roof of the town’s arena.
Town councillors and staff have received a report that indicates that significant damage is suspected in that roof and it will likely cost a lot – maybe $200,000 or more to fix it, Stuart speculated.
“I don’t think there will be (money for that), because actually that was another question that somebody asked, is: ‘we have a major arena problem. Is there any extra money for that?’ And (Municipal Affairs Minister) Ric McIvor said ‘no,’” he said.
Stuart said the Town of Bowden did receive an $80,000 Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFIP) grant but he fears that won’t cover the total roof repair bill if it’s as high – or higher – than he suspects.
It was pointed out that another provincial budget will be announced early next year, just before the spring provincial election.
Budgets announced just before elections tend to feature a lot of spending, so Bowden might receive more cash from the government at that time.
“Yeah, that’s true,” Stuart said. “That’s what they usually do, right?”