SARM finds mostly good news but some disappointments in provincial budget

SARM president Ray Orb (Leader-Post file photo)

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) gave the recent provincial budget a vote of approval after it was unveiled on March 23.

SARM president Ray Orb said they appreciated the increase in funding for plans, programs and infrastructure that benefit rural Saskatchewan. Orb added that he believes the government is on track despite the deficits incurred in recent years due to pandemic, weather events and more.

SARM said the budget showed understanding that the bridge infrastructure deficit is growing, and additional investment is critical for Saskatchewan. The organization also appreciated the investment to the Rural Integrated Roads for Growth (RIRG) Program of $22.5 million, including $7.5 million in stimulus funding.

“Road and bridge infrastructure is integral to rural life,” Orb said in a press release.

“This will help RMs maintain and improve economically strategic municipal roads and bridges that support agriculture, energy, forestry, and other rural-based sectors,” he added.

SARM stated that the success of Saskatchewan’s agriculture sector is imperative for the province’s economic growth.

They said that agriculture producers in Saskatchewan can take comfort knowing the province is funding the Business Risk Management Programming at $338.5 million and enhancing programs like Crop Insurance to ensure support will be there when it’s needed. SARM also appreciates the continued investment in irrigation expansion. 

However, there were some concerns. Orb said municipal revenue sharing remains a reliable and preferred model for funding, one that RMs count on to serve their communities. However, that funding decreased for the second budget in a row, down to $276 million.

While increased funding to the municipal revenue sharing is needed, SARM greatly appreciates the continuation of the Targeted Sector Support Funding at $1.5M, money earmarked for capacity building and intermunicipal cooperation.

After the backlog and strain resulting from COVID-19, Orb said they’re very appreciative of the budget focusing on funding and initiatives to improve our overall healthcare system. They said that they were pleased with the inclusion of key rural focused initiatives such as physician recruitment, long term care and funding for more healthcare programming and services in rural area.

SARM appreciated the noteworthy investments of $50.7M to create a Provincial Protective Services branch and a $2.5M increase for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.

“Continued investment to reduce rural crime is also welcome news,” Orb said.

With broadband being a service that is essential to the livelihood and economic growth in rural Saskatchewan, SARM said that they hope the $337M investment in information and communications technology infrastructure will reach rural Saskatchewan to further contribute to a network of reliable and affordable broadband across this province.