Ensuring continued revenue sharing from both the province and Ottawa for urban municipalities was a major thrust at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association’s annual convention.
While some years have seen a major issue galvanizing the convention, Yorkton Deputy Mayor Les Arnelien said that was not the case this time around.
“There was not really alot of issues,” he said.
In general terms the SUMA convention remains a good place to network with other municipalities to discuss common concerns and possible solutions, offered Arnelien, who said there were again some 1,200 delegates representing some 440 hamlets, villages, towns and cities in Saskatchewan.
“It’s a good time to lobby the provincial government,” he said.
And when it came to lobbying, the message was clear, funding needs to be maintained, and eventually expanded, in order for municipalities to keep up with their spending requirements.
“Everybody needs money to do things,” said Arnelien, adding they recognize that includes the two senior levels of government, which are facing tight financial budgets, but municipalities cannot be forgotten either.
“We’ve got to realize there’s not a lot of money out there,” in terms of federal, or provincial; budgets this year, so there is little expectation more dollars will flow to municipalities.
Arnelien said the Municipal Operating Grant, based on one per cent of provincial sales tax revenue remains in place.
In 2012, the MOG provided $168.6 million in funding to SUMA member governments. This broke down to $189.64 per capita to cities and $204.39 per capita to towns and villages.
Arnelien said one thing SUMA did discuss is how best for the province to allocate any growth in the overall fund. He said they believe the current per capita levels should be retained as a base, but that “any new dollars” be distributed “based on population growth.”
That process would ensure municipalities which are experiencing the greatest growth, such as Regina, Saskatoon, and Yorkton would realize more dollars to deal with the added infrastructure costs associated with handling a growing population, explained Arnelien.
The other funding source Arnelien said SUMA works to keep intact is the Federal Gas Tax Program.
In 2012, the Gas Tax Program delivered $55.2 million in funding to local governments, paying $56.60 per capita.
Arnelien said the federal program helps municipalities budget.
“When I was first elected 12 years ago we didn’t have this kind of funding in place,” he said, adding it now lets the City plan better.
Arnelien said while existing programs help, the need remains large.
“Everyone in SUMA needs infrastructure capital,” he said, including Yorkton. “… We need money just like everybody else.”
Arnelien pointed to a project such as the planned re-paving of Broadway Street.
“That’s multi-millions of dollars,” he said.
Often major projects have to be tied to government programs which offer cost-sharing. Arnelien said Yorkton is in a good position in that regard.
“We’ve done our studies. We’ve done our needs assessment to know what condition different buildings are in,” he said, adding they know what needs to be done if senior government dollars become available.