The Alberta Budget for 2023-2024 was released last week, and with it came some big announcements that will most likely have a big impact on Strathmore. Several aspects of the budget stood out to Mayor Pat Fule, who is looking forward to the positive changes this could have for our community.
Westmount School replacement
One of the big items in the budget is the replacement of Westmount School. The building has been standing for more than 50 years, so Fule is excited to see a replacement on the way. While the benefits of a new school are obvious to the students and the community, Fule added the benefits don't stop at just the immediate impact of community members excited for a new building.
"It could also help attract potential residents into Strathmore, people who might be looking for a high quality of life, and schools are a big part of that. It's an exciting time for sure and it's one more thing that's coming in the next two to three years that's going to really be great."
Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) and Provincial Capital increase in funding
The MSI is a program designed to help municipalities maintain and build infrastructure, like roads, water systems, transit, and more. The MSI operating budget has doubled from $30 to $60 million, while the capital budget sits at $485 million for 2023. Fule doesn't know just how much of this will go to Strathmore, but a rising tide lifts all boats, so he's confident this means Strathmore will receive more money to work with.
"This is enormous for our town. It helps with inflation, and it helps with a town like Strathmore being able to afford some of the big capital projects that we have in our plans over the next several years."
As for provincial capital funding, this is similar to the MSI in that it gives communities more money to work on projects and maintain infrastructure. Fule said we're seeing an increase of 6.7% from last year, including budget increases to things like the Water for Life program. Fule explained a lot of the provincial capital increase relates to grants and funding for projects, so the Town will look into what Strathmore is eligible for to see if we're set to take advantage of additional grant money to improve our community infrastructure.
While receiving grant money for projects would be a big win for Strathmore, as it doesn't come out of our budget, Fule said the money that doesn't come from grants will be spent more cautiously. Rather than spend big and invest in many big projects with the extra money, he said this is a good opportunity to instead save money.
"We learned in the last election that the residents are also looking at debt and they want to be sure that we're fiscally responsible with our money. So, we're looking at achieving some things, but also trying to keep financial sustainability in mind and making sure that we have a good balance between trying to do big projects but also paying off debt."
On top of managing debt, another big focus will be putting the money into reserves, as Fule said the town is aware of aging infrastructure below the roads. Putting money into reserves to repair these not only takes care of a problem, but also saves money long term as the Town won't have to spend money on repairs and maintenance if the infrastructure itself is new.
"We're looking at debt reduction as well as putting money into financial reserves but balancing that with being able to apply for some of these grants to take on big projects."
Alberta Advantage Immigration Program
As the name implies, this program is based on bringing immigrants into Alberta to become permanent residents and work here. For Strathmore, the key areas of focus would be the rural renewal stream and rural entrepreneur stream. The program itself isn't new, but Fule said he's going to start looking into how this could apply to Strathmore.
"We see that the province is putting in an additional 21 million dollars into that, and with Strathmore and area having large corporations investing in our area, things like Phyto Organix, we want to be able to ensure that those companies, those fast-food places, those restaurants and motels, that there's a labor force that they can turn to, to help them be successful and continue their success in our community."
If you're worried this means jobs won't be available to local Strathmore residents who already live here, Fule says this won't be a problem.
"I can understand that some people might be concerned about that, but this came to us from the business community. Business community owners and leaders came to us and said they're having trouble filling positions in their businesses. They're not getting enough of our local people to come into their workforce."
"If the business community feels that this is important and it's needed, then we want to learn as much as we can (about the program). But I don't believe that people in Strathmore have to worry about jobs being taken because the business community is telling us that they're having a hard time filling positions with our local population, so we have to look at ways to support them."
Other quick notes:
- The Alberta government increased FCSS funding by about $15 million, meaning Strathmore FCSS should be well positioned to benefit from this increase as well.
- Fule also said: "we're in kind of a perfect storm of a budget year where we're going into a provincial election, parties want to try to deliver so they do good things to the province, but also, we have a surplus in the Alberta Government budget."
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