Municipal Policy: We need to reinvest in our cities
Posted on April 05, 2012 by Richard Einarson
In an election campaign where other parties have been busy spending your money, it’s somewhat surprising that no one is talking about Alberta’s cities. When I was Mayor of Hinton, I learned first hand about the challenges faced by our municipal governments.
Why cities matter…
Municipalities provide the services that Albertans rely on everyday, including clean drinking water, public transit, police, recreation and social services. These services affect you and your family every single day.
If we want to make Alberta the best place to live, we need to make sure that our cities are great places to live. However, our municipalities struggle to provide the services that your family needs because the system is simply broken.
Fortunately, the Alberta Party has a simple plan to fix it.
First, we need a better funding model.
Municipalities have two primary sources of revenue: property taxes and user fees. These revenues only cover operating expenses. In order to build the things that our communities need, such as roads, hockey rinks, soccer fields, transit systems and water treatment systems, municipalities rely on grants from the provincial and federal governments.
There are two problems with the grant system. First, the province imposes limitations on the types of projects a grant can be used for. This means that money may gets spent on projects that may not be at the top of a community’s priority list. Second, it’s often very difficult for a city to proceed with large projects since it doesn’t know what its future grants will be.
Lets take rapid transit as an example. New light rail transit lines (LRT) in Calgary and Edmonton will cost between $2 to $3 billion each - which is about the same as the annual operating budgets for these two cities. Thus it is impossible for either city to proceed without help from another level of government. These cities could decide to borrow the money to build those LRT lines today, but they can only do so if they know that there will be grant money in the future to pay back the debt. However, no responsible city council would do that, unless it was certain that the money will be there.
In order to improve the funding model, we will:
- Gradually shift education funding from the property tax system, allowing municipalities full access to the property tax, thus increasing the amount of money available to your municipal government.
- Work with municipalities to develop a predictable and stable long term funding system that allows municipalities to plan effectively.
- Explore replacing the property tax with a fairer taxation system.
Second, we need better governance.
The Municipal Government Act, the law governing our cities, is badly outdated. It has a one size fits all approach to governance. In our large cities, its not uncommon for the entire city council to be debating whether or not someone can build a garage on their property. This may make sense in a tiny hamlet, but it doesn’t make any sense in Edmonton.
We have a plan to make this better. The Alberta Party will:
- Create Large City Charters for Calgary and Edmonton that recognize the unique needs of Alberta’s largest cities.
- Create the Premier’s Council on Local Government to determine the resources and structures that Alberta’s small and mid-sized municipalities need to provide meaningful levels of service to their communities, including the development of local government charters.
Third, we need to improve local government.
In order to help build stronger communities, the Alberta Party believes that we need stronger local governments. We will:
- Implement comprehensive campaign finance reform for municipal elections, including stricter donation and spending limits and mandatory disclosure of campaign donors prior to election day.
- Extend the term of elected municipal officials from three years to four years to allow municipal governments more time to plan and implement their agendas for their communities.
- Establish the Innovation in Municipal Government Program, which will provide financial assistance and technical support for municipalities undertaking citizen engagement projects.
By changing the rules of the game and establishing a predictable and stable funding model, we can provide our local governments with the tools to build strong and healthy communities. Reinvesting in our municipalities is a key step in making Alberta the best place to live.
Leader, Alberta Party
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