The provincial government released the 2014/2015 budget on Wednesday afternoon, showing no tax increases and limited spending.
© Daily Herald staff
“This budget will keep Saskatchewan on the path of steady growth,” said Ken Krawetz, Minister of Finance. “It is a balanced budget and contains no tax increases. It controls spending while still making important investments in infrastructure and important investments in people.”
Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne headed down to Regina for the budget meeting.
“It was really nice to see,” he said. “I got to meet a bunch of other mayors that were there (and) cabinet ministers.
“It’s also about networking. I shook hands with a majority of ministers and gave them my card, and they were pleased we were there. When they get a request from the City of P.A. they know we’re still out there.”
Prince Albert citizens may be pleased with some of the decisions made in the provincial budget.
With the Victoria Hospital facing issues, such as the overcrowding off the emergency department, the provincial government announced plans for improvements this year.
“Our next major health facility investment will be in Prince Albert with $2 million provided this year to begin planning the renewal of Victoria Hospital,” Krawetz said.
Prince Albert Parkland Health Region CEO Cecile Hunt said she is delighted with the support the government is showing them.
“The $2 million will allow us to plan for renewal -- this building, the footprint is really unable to continue to provide the care options that our patients of today’s need,” Hunt said. “We are very delighted to have this opportunity to do some planning … We need to ensure the Victoria Hospital of the future is able to meet the needs of our patients and our families.”
There have been discussions in the past about the needs of the Victoria Hospital, but now that funding has been allocated it is exciting for the city.
“Now there (have) actually been some feet put behind it by the provincial government to fund $2 million to proceed to the next step, which is finding out what you want in the plans and what you need,” Dionne said. “It’s a major step, because that shows a commitment now from the department of health and the government to move the northern hospital for Prince Albert ahead.”
In the LEAN planning process, they will look at the capacity of the current hospital, population projections and other factors that impact the hospital, Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens said.
“What this process will entail is extensive contemplation through the health region and the Ministry of Health, and all stakeholders, not just in Prince Albert but the entire geographical area including the north, to ensure that we need the needs and demands that have been brought forward over the last number of years to both myself and Victoria and our surrounding MLAs,” Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie said.
When the plan is finished, they will determine if they will build a new hospital or do major renovations on the current hospital.
“There’s been discussion on the amount, what they need and everything else -- it’s been anywhere from a new hospital to a renovated hospital, to a renovated additional hospital – there’s been lots of conversation,” Dionne said.
“We are working to ensure the facility will be the right size for current needs and for future projected needs,” Jurgens said.
“All the stakeholders will have some time to come to the community meetings and put their views forward so it is exciting for Prince Albert and area,” Hickie added. “It has never been undertaken like this before.”
PAPHR will be meeting with the Ministry of Health to develop a strategy to ensure they are consulting with stakeholders and partners.
Also related to health, the government is also continuing to fund the final construction on the new Pineview Terrace long-term care facility, Jurgens said.
“With the increase in the health care funding -- three per cent over last year -- that of course affects Prince Albert,” she added. “We also have emergency department wait times money earmarked for that at the tune of $4 million for the province. We have a large emergency centre, so that will help.”
Surgical wait times have also decreased and the government will also invest an additional $7 million for seniors’ care, including the Home First/Quick Response pilot program, she said.
“Care for seniors continues to be a priority,” Krawetz said. “This budget provides $4.5 million for the Home First/Quick Response Home Care program, up $2.5 million from last year. The senior’s care urgent action fund will receive $3.7 million to continue to address issues in long-term care facilities.”
Although the SaskParty has been criticized by the opposition about funding LEAN management, instead of using those dollars in other areas. Jurgens believes they have already seen improvement by funding it.
“I’m very excited about the LEAN concept,” Jurgens said. “We have already saved over $40 million, which is the total cost of LEAN and we are only into year two of it. We have already gained our investment in the process.
“We will continue to gain the investment back in future efficiencies in our health care system,” she added. “The LEAN process is just one step in creating a more efficient system.”
Another area Prince Albert citizens may see the benefit of is funding for First Nations and Métis education.
“This budget provides $189 million for programs and initiatives that specifically benefit First Nations and Métis,” Krawetz said. “Much of this funding is to ensure First Nations and Métis people receive the education and training they need to take full advantage of our growing economy.”
“Prince Albert has a large First Nations and Métis population, so when we contribute $189.2 million, which is actually an increase of $4.4 million from last year, this funding for First Nations education will directly benefit Prince Albert and surrounding area,” Jurgens commented.
The budget will provide more than $394 million of direct provincial support to municipalities, Krawetz said, which is up nine per cent from last year.
“This includes $257 million for municipal revenue sharing, based on the formula of one point of the PST,” Krawetz said. “This is down slightly from last year, but still more than double what was provided to municipalities in 2007.”
Prince Albert finance director Joe Day said the city will receive $7,260,400, which is a $99,610 drop from last year’s $7,471,0789.
Dionne said the city was prepared for the drop and took it into consideration with their budget this year.
During the budget announcements, Krawetz said a new commuter bridge is needed in north Saskatoon and the provincial government, along with the city and federal government, will work together to fund that priority, with money expected start flowing in next year.
Although Prince Albert citizens have been asking for a second bridge, Hickie said he understands why it has not been funded.
“We recognize that the comprehensive study completed by Stantec and provided to the city and the province indicated that for another bridge to be built in Prince Albert, you have to have higher traffic counts, which usually dictates a higher population more economic development and we see that in Saskatoon,” Hickie said.
With the P3 concept being used in Saskatoon, Hickie said that could open doors for Prince Albert in the future, but at this time the hospital was more important for the city.
“In the future, when the city continues to grow, we can then look … at future planning for seeing how we can fit into maybe the Canada Build or whatever funds the federal government may have,” Jurgens said.
Hickie said they are looking at the needs of the city moving forward, including working on the water treatment facility and funding special operational units in the Prince Albert Police Service.
“Victoria and I have both heard extensively from the people around the area that infrastructure is a need, health care is a need and keeping the taxes low,” Hickie said. “What we are doing is we are actually seeing in this budget no tax increase at all and when the people do their income taxes, they are going to the see that their personal exemption is actually higher than it was last year in Saskatchewan.
“We are putting more money into the pockets of people and having them retain what they make.”
Overall, Dionne was happy with the budget and what it is doing to meet the needs of Prince Albert.
“We got no new (civic infrastructure) money in 2013 and 2014 as a city, but we had no real asks, and I know when we do come up with an ask in 2015 and 2016 that the government will look favourable on it, because we got no money in the two previous years,” he said.
Krawetz said the budget also shows a projected surplus of $71 million.
“This wasn’t easy to accomplish,” Krawetz said. “Total revenue is essentially flat -- down 0.7 per cent from last year to $14.07 billion. Net income, from the crown and insurance sectors, is down almost $200 million.”
Tax revenue showed an increase, which Krawetz explained is due to individual income tax growth since the population grew by 20,000 people to an all-time high of 1,117,503 people.
Non-renewable resource revenue was up slightly, with oil increases offsetting potash decreases.
“Because of the decline in revenue, our government has a choice to make -- raise taxes or control spending,” Krawetz said. “Our perseverance will always be to balance the budget by controlling spending. That is why there are no tax increases in this budget, no education property increases, no personal or business tax increases.”
Since they didn’t want to increase taxes, spending is down $28 million, he said, which meant some difficult decisions. Some areas are receiving less than what they asked for.
“This budget is designed to meet the challenges of a growing province,” he said. “It is balanced, it contains no tax increases, it controls spending, it makes important investments in infrastructure and it makes important investments in people and it will keep Saskatchewan on the path of steady growth.”
Dionne was also pleased to see no tax increases, as previously the premier brought up the idea of raising the education tax to pay for non-education items.
“Overall I was a very positive budget,” he said. “No tax increases, and what I came for today is that we’ve been advocating for no provincial education tax increase.
“I am looking forward to working with the government over the next two years, now, and get our fair share and move some issues forward.”
with files from Tyler Clarke
Saskatchewan budget breakdown
-- 2014 budget -- $14.1 billion
-- 2015 budget -- $14.0 billion
Revenue breakdown for 2014
-- Taxation -- $6.6 billion
-- Non-renewable resources -- $2.6 billion
-- Other own-source revenue -- $2 billion
-- Tranfers from the federal government -- $1.9 billion
-- Gov’t business enterprises -- $860 million
-- 2014 budget -- $14.0 billion
-- 2015 budget -- $14.0 billion
Expense breakdown for 2014
-- Health -- $5.2 billion
-- Education -- $3.4 billion
-- Social Services and Assistance -- $1.1 billion
-- Agriculture -- $830 million
-- Protection of Persons and Property -- $603 million
-- Debt Charges -- $599 million
-- Transportation -- $528 million
-- Community Development -- $552 million
-- Other -- $502 million
-- Economic Development -- $322 million
-- Environment and Natural Resources -- $230 million
Projected surplus for 2014
-- $149.8 million
* Billions were rounded down to a single decimal point. Millions were rounded down to the main number. Source: Provincial budget.