Council to debate spending priorities for $5.1-million provincial funding boost

Prince Albert city council will decide how to spend roughly $5.1-million in provincial infrastructure money when they meet at City Hall on Tuesday.

The funds are part of the province’s Building a Stronger Saskatchewan plan announced on May 6. As part of that, the City of Prince Albert will receive $5,163,587 from the Municipal Economic Enhancement Program (MEEP).

Roughly $2.25-million of that is slated for the Marquis Road Extension Project, while $1.4 million is slated for pavement upgrades. Other projects include sidewalk repairs ($500,000), parking lot repairs ($72,000), park pathway reconstruction ($50,000) and the Alfred Jenkins Playground expansion ($325,000).

Mayor Greg Dionne welcomed the financial boost during an interview on Friday, but said it wouldn’t be enough to fund the City’s post-pandemic recovery plan. However, he also said the provincial government can only do so much before Saskatchewan taxpayers start to suffer.

“It’s not enough funding, but it’s a start,” he said. “What people don’t understand, and I do because I live in the real world, is people who want more sometimes have to look at the big picture. I am very pleased the government gave us the money (but) where are they going to get it?”

Dionne wants to see the federal government contribute more to municipalities, instead of leaving them to rely on provincial governments. While other sectors of the economy, like fisheries, agriculture and commercial airlines have all received federal bailout packages, municipalities haven’t been as fortunate.

In April, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) asked parliament for $15-billion in emergency funding to fight a COVID-19 budget crisis. The FCM cited delays in collecting property taxes and declines in normally reliable revenue services like parking and transit fees as some of the main reasons.

“Whether you’re municipal, provincial or a federal government, there’s one taxpayer and we’re worried about that taxpayer because … you’re going to have to collect the money back,” Dionne said. “You have to pay some of these debts off. That’s why you have to be very careful on your recovery program. You want to put people back to work, but at the same time you don’t want to cripple people either.”

Dionne added that local workers and local contractors would be given priority when it came to handing out tenders.

“We’re going to continue focusing on putting local, spelled capital L-O-C-A-L, people back to work,” he said. “That has my 100 per cent focus.”

The City of Prince Albert still expects to collect payments on property taxes, but that money won’t start coming in until the end of September. On April 6, city council voted for a property tax deferral that gave residents until Sept. 30 to make their payments. Property owners must fill out an application to have their taxes deferred.

In a regular year, the City receives nearly $58-million in property taxes. They collected $10.8 million prior to the start of the pandemic.

MEEP is a grant-based program whose funds are allocated on a per capita basis. In 2019, the City received $3,7130,800 in MEEP funding.

The next Prince Albert city council meeting begins at 5 p.m. on May 15 in City Hall. Regular social distancing rules are still in effect.

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