Infrastructure funding is the top concern facing Saskatchewan’s urban municipalities, Mayor Greg Dionne said.
A piece of the infrastructure pie comes through municipal operating grants -- a portion of the PST spread throughout the province’s municipalities.
“We’re debating the formula to that,” Dionne said, reached by phone on Monday -- the halfway point in the 108th Annual Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) Convention in Saskatoon.
Last year, the City of Prince Albert received about $330,000 less than administration had expected. This is a result of the grant being based on a per-capita basis and Statistics Canada’s population count for Prince Albert being less than anticipated.
This formula is up for debate, Dionne said, in part because rural municipalities receive 29 per cent of funds but only account for 18 per cent of the population.
In the 2012/13 budget, municipal revenue sharing totalled almost $237.4 million throughout the province, of which Prince Albert received $6.66 million.
Wall’s speech on Monday was a convention highlight, Dionne said -- not that the premier mentioned anything too surprising.
Wall noted that certain components of funding wouldn’t be as great as previously anticipated, Dionne said.
“Even though we’re doing very well, economically, sometimes when it comes to government, that doesn’t transpire into revenue.”
The aging infrastructure in Prince Albert, and most other places in Saskatchewan, will require greater provincial and federal funding, Dionne said -- a common theme of many recent political discussions.
This sentiment was also brought up by Dionne during a recent city council meeting, during which time city council decided that utility rates need to increase between 8.9 and 10.4 per cent utility bill hike every year between 2013 to 2016.
“(Wall) did suggestion to us, by 2014, that we should have shovel-ready projects in the ground, because hopefully that’s when the federal government will announce a new stimulus package for infrastructure,” Dionne said.
With projects shovel ready, the city is more likely to receive these grants, he added.
“Even though we set the rates for four years, those can go down if we get outside funding.”
When it comes to major infrastructure projects, Wall also mentioned P3s (public/private partnerships) need to be looked at as a source of funding, Dionne said.
This could include things like sports facilities or bridges, he added.
When it comes to bridges, Prince Albert has received attention from across the province since August, 2011, when a crack was found on the Diefenbaker bridge.
With bridge repairs funded under the province’s Urban Highway Connector Program, Dionne wants to see the program better defined.
“It’s not funded to the level that we think it should be, and we want more details on what we can apply (for) and how we can apply and how it’s going to go across the province,” he said, noting that this item is on Tuesday’s agenda, during which time mayors will meet to discuss common problems.
With SUMA serving as urban municipal governments’ official voice to the provincial government, council’s attendance to the annual convention is important and well warranting of the expense.
“They all have an individual vote, and the reason that I encourage all of council to go,” Dionne said.
“And being in Saskatoon. It’s a minor cost. It’s not like I’m sending them to Victoria or Vancouver -- we’re all here in Saskatoon.”
Shortly after the Daily Herald got off the line with Dionne, a press release came in unveiling third-term Weyburn Mayor Debra Button as SUMA president for the next four years. Button is also a board member and vice-chair of inter-relations with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.