INNISFAIL – With just five weeks since the general municipal election, Innisfail’s new town council faces the daunting task this week of sorting out the 2022 municipal budget, one that will see a dramatic decrease in provincial infrastructure funding support, and the start of an increased policing budget that will cost taxpayers close to $200,000 more than it was in 2021.
Town council begins three days of 2022 budget deliberations on Nov. 24, a process to cover next year’s anticipated operating and capital costs.
“Administration has worked very hard, and they’ve given us an opportunity to do some strategic planning prior to the budget, which will be extremely beneficial,” said Mayor Jean Barclay, noting the challenges ahead, including new ones brought on by the flooding disaster in B.C. that could create supply chain pressures to Innisfail and its citizens.
“If you’re not doing strategic planning before you go into budget you are now having to prioritize where those dollars go, and how do you do that when you haven’t done any strategic planning? It’s very difficult,” she said, adding she had “no idea at this point” whether Innisfail property owners are facing a tax hike for 2022.
“It’s very important that council as a group understand the things the community may need,” she said. “We have so many different areas that we are looking at, and we know there is going to infrastructure and capital projects every year that need to be replaced.
“There is always pressure, and we know this year our provincial grants are going to be less.”
Erica Vickers, director of corporate affairs, said the province gave the town $2,088,946 in MSI (infrastructure) funding in 2021, an inflated amount to prepare for the tough times ahead.
For both 2022 and 2023 Innisfail is expected to receive just $847,106 in provincial MSI funding, about half of what the town typically receives annually.
Vickers said in 2024/25 the MSI program will be replaced by the new Local Governments Fiscal Framework Act, which will guide future infrastructure funding to all Alberta municipalities.
As for policing costs, the town now has credible estimates how much that budget will increase annually as a result of the recently completed collective bargaining agreement between the federal government and the National Police Federation on behalf of RCMP members.
The town is also expected to be hit with a back pay policing bill going back to 2016 but Vickers said an official notice has not yet arrived yet, but earlier estimates suggested it could be as high as $500,000.
She said the estimate for the first annual increase will see Innisfail’s policing budget jump from $1,307,217 in 2021 to $1,497,907 in 2022, an increase of just over $190,000.
The policing budget for the town will rise again in 2023 to $1.53 million, $1.56 million in 2024, $1.59 million in 2025, and $1.63 million in 2026.
“It jumps up pretty quick each year,” said Vickers of the RCMP K Division estimates. “And obviously these quotes can change throughout the year. This is what they gave us earlier this year.”
The public is allowed to attend the budget deliberations at town hall. The deliberations, which begin at 9 a.m. each day, will also be live streamed on Zoom but they will not be recorded.