2019 Municipal Budget Talks Underway: Day One Highlights

The 2019 Budget meetings are officially underway in the RMWB.

The municipality is dealing with a slightly smaller budget compared to last year – with a proposed amount of $718 million, which includes $404 million for operating, $218 million for capital and $96 million for debt reduction.

While the numbers are down from 2018, it’s the RMWB’s attempt to continue to align with the province’s 5:1 tax ratio.

On Wednesday, Wood Buffalo council opened the first day of budget talks with a focus on the Community Investment Program.

The meeting began with over 30 delegates from the public – speaking either in support of funding for certain programs and organizations or were voicing concerns against.

In addition, council heard 12 presenters who were vying for municipal grant opportunities.

Capital Grant Highlights

There were seven applicants for the 2020 Community Investment Program Capital Grants.

The largest grant approved went to the Fort McMurray Airport Authority, who will receive $15 million to rehabilitate their runway.

During their presentation, President and CEO of the Airport Authority RJ Steenstra informed council that municipal funding is their only path to sustainability.

“The municipality has a vested interest to ensure the airport remains sustainable and viable which is why we are looking at this partnership,” Steenstra said. “Unfortunately, we are limited beyond that in terms of other government support.”

One of the more debated issues was regarding the proposed art gallery at Keyano College.

On Tuesday, the college unveiled conceptual drawings for a proposed community Art Gallery at the Keyano Theatre.

The drawings are part of a detailed business plan supporting the college’s request to the RMWB – to approve $16.8 million for further design and construction.

The college is also requesting the RMWB help fund a portion of its Theatre’s annual operations.

Both those matters were deferred to Friday morning.

CIP Sustaining Grants Presentations

Meanwhile, council also heard from several other applicants for the 2020 CIP Sustaining Grants.

Among them was the Local HERO Foundation, which received $2.2 million as part of their initial request of $2.7 million.

President Paul Spring tells Mix News the approval is a sign council cares about the safety of its residents.

“So, if you’re hurt in the backcountry when you’re out on your quad or you run into a moose on Highway 63 or you’re working at site and get injured – you know that Mayor and council are spending tax money to make sure we can respond to any emergency in a timely manner.”

The day of meetings wrapped up with a presentation from the President and CEO fo the Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation, Kevin Weidlich.

Councillor Jane Stroud asks WBEDC President Kevin Weidlich a few questions during budget meetings. Photo by: Brandon Piper//Harvard Broadcasting

The administration had already recommended full grant funding of $4.022 million to the WBEDC.

During his presentation, Weidlich noted a 2019 Economic Impact of $13.5 million and a return of investment of 6:1 based on an operating budget of $2.2 million.

However, this request was not without some debate, with members of council pressing Weidlich on progress within the corporation.

“Yes, I am feeling the heat quite intensely,” Weidlich said. “That’s why I’m trying to emphasize that we haven’t even really started marketing at scale when we’ve delivered a return on investment of the sustaining grant of this year at 6:1.”

Despite concerns, council did approve the Corporation’s funding, which should allow them to engage on their strategic priorities going forward.

Council will resume budget talks Thursday morning, starting at 9 a.m. in the council chambers.

To watch the budget meetings, you can head to the RMWB’s website.

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