Organizations representing Saskatchewan local governments react to budget

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Randy Goulden, president of SUMA during the 2024-2025 Saskatchewan Budget at the Saskatchewan Legislature on Wednesday, March 20, 2024 in Regina.

Bryn Levy, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Having had the opportunity to unpack the recent provincial budget, associations representing local governments across Saskatchewan are praising some measures, while noting areas where they plan to continue pressing for more investment.

Randy Goulden, president of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association, said SUMA’s member governments appreciated seeing “communities” as one of the three central themes of the budget, alongside “care” and “classrooms.”

She noted SUMA represents local governments that administer services for about 80 per cent of the province’s population. Many of these communities have struggled with revenue challenges since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With that in mind, Goulden said SUMA was pleased to see municipal revenue sharing increase to $340.2 million, up 10.7 per cent from the $297.9 million delivered through the program last year. Revenue sharing is built around a formula that provides the equivalent of three-quarters of a point of the provincial sales tax to municipalities.

This “predictable, sustainable” source of funding helps local governments keep up with growth, Goulden said, noting property tax revenues take longer to catch up with rising population and inflation.

Goulden also had praise for a $900,000 increase in funding for the Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency, which oversees the province’s property tax system.

She noted SAMA funding has remained flat for several years, while calling the agency “foundational” and “absolutely key” in supporting the work of local governments in delivering services.

“We cannot go back to frozen budgets and assume we can continue doing the work that needs to be done,” Goulden added.

Goulden said the province can expect to keep hearing from SUMA on a few items where the budget fell short of the association’s priorities. She highlighted a $16 million decrease in funding for northern highways as an area where the budget didn’t deliver on SUMA priorities.

“They need that for public safety, they need that to further increase economic growth and development projects in northern Saskatchewan,” she said.

Goulden said SUMA will also continue pushing to have local governments exempted from paying PST on the labour for construction projects, noting this has been a point of emphasis since the exemption was removed in 2017.

Rural reps praise ag investment, call for more road funding

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities also had a mix of praise and criticisms following the budget.

SARM’s representatives welcomed the increase in revenue sharing funds, with association president Ray Orb saying in a statement that this helped RM’s meet a “major responsibility to provide a level of service and infrastructure expected by the major sectors driving Saskatchewan’s economy.”

Orb also had praise for the budget’s investments in agriculture, including the announcement of $20 million to get started on the Lake Diefenbaker irrigation project — a multi-billion dollar effort that is expected to expand irrigation across some 500,000 acres when all phases are complete.

SARM’s post-budget analysis included criticism of what was termed a “modest” increase to funding for rural road and bridge infrastructure.

“While we recognize the challenges in balancing various priorities within budget constraints, we urge the government to ensure RMs have sufficient funding to maintain critical rural infrastructure across the province,” Orb said.