Alberta’s urban municipalities are seeking three key changes as the Municipal Government Act (MGA) is modernized—a stronger provincial/municipal partnership; a sustainable funding model for municipalities; and tools to support regionalization.
The amendments that were tabled this afternoon by the Minister of Municipal Affairs are an important step in furthering regional approaches but fall far short of strengthening relationships and ensuring sustainable funding.
The amendments enable Growth Management Boards for the large metropolitan areas surrounding Edmonton and Calgary, while requiring mandatory intermunicipal agreements for other areas. These agreements will guide the planning, delivery and funding of infrastructure and services that are provided by one municipality and used by the citizens and businesses of other municipalities. “Our municipalities have been trying for years to establish agreements for these shared infrastructure and services so we appreciate that this is now a requirement” says AUMA’s President Lisa Holmes. “Mandatory long-term funding agreements should ensure that the costs of infrastructure and services are equitably shared amongst municipalities.”
Other aspects of the amendments are disappointing for municipalities as they do not address the current problems in the provincial/municipal partnership and municipal funding model. “We are concerned that the province will not acknowledge the importance of engaging municipalities when decisions are made that impact our communities and our citizens” says President Holmes. “It is difficult to be accountable for the planning and provision of infrastructure and services when we do not know what the province is considering in terms of its economic, social and environmental policies. By not involving municipalities, the province may not fully appreciate the consequences of its intended policies and often downloads the impacts onto the shoulders of municipalities. As well, the lack of engagement creates inefficiencies and makes it challenging to provide services.”
Municipalities were further disappointed that the province is not legislating and indexing core infrastructure grants. “This is a real missed opportunity to ensure that municipalities have stable and sufficient infrastructure funding. The federal government was visionary in legislating an effective, indexed process for the federal gas tax fund and we hoped that the province would take similar action since the MSI funding has been nothing but a series of broken promises with reduced and delayed funding” says President Holmes. The legislation is also silent on additional tax and revenue powers for municipalities. “While we understand that the province may consider these powers for the big city charters, we believe all municipalities should have this opportunity” says Holmes. “Many of our municipalities are in unique situations, like our rapidly growing mid-sized cities or our resort communities and they need additional tools so they can fund core infrastructure and services.” Municipalities are also concerned that the province is not willing to share provincial revenues and has set restrictions on the new offsite levies.
Without changes to what the province is proposing for the MGA, there will continue to be disconnects between responsibility and accountability. “Municipalities are responsible for providing three year operating and five year capital plans but are hampered by uncertain funding and a lack of information because the province refuses to relinquish its control of decisions and funding” says Holmes.
AUMA looks forward to gathering input from our municipalities and advising the province of required changes for when the legislation is re-tabled this fall.