Local politicians are uncertain what sort of impact the 2016 provincial budget is going to have on the region as details surrounding the NDP’s multi-billion dollar capital plan have yet to be fully released.
“It looks like the majority of the funding is probably going to go into Edmonton and Calgary. We all know that there is a need in those two big centres, but rural Alberta also has infrastructure deficits that need to be addressed as well. The fact is there are a lot of municipalities waiting to see where the funding goes,” said Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr.
The 2016 Alberta budget, released on April 14, will see the government dump billions of dollars into its operations in order to offset the current economic downturn. This spending will see the NDP exceed the debt ceiling it legislated just five months ago and plunge the province into $57.6 billion in debt by 2019.
“When we look at the direction we are going as a province we are looking at record debt levels; low oil prices can only be blamed for so much. At some point you actually have to point at the government for the decisions they are making,” said Cyr.
Highlighting the budget is the Alberta Jobs Plan, a strategy the government hopes will help support families through a tough economy, promote job creation and economic diversification, and carefully control government spending. This proposal will see billions of dollars injected into family support programs, infrastructure, diversifying the energy industry and supporting business.
Over the next five years a total of $9 billion will be invested in municipal infrastructure, $4.6 billion will be spent on roads and bridges, $3.5 billion will be spent on school projects and $2.2 billion will be devoted to green infrastructure project.
Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski is excited to see the government taking advantage of low borrowing rates to continue investing in much needed services.
“I am pleased to see there is an emphasis on infrastructure, hospitals, schools, roads in this budget,” said Sobolewski. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of (low interest rates) and try to get as much in the ground and as much built for the limit resources that you have got?”
Bonnyville Centralized High School has been listed on the government’s five-year capital plan, as the province looks to inject some funding into the Lakeland.
While BCHS is the only local project officially announced in the NDP’s capital plan, many politicians in the region are hopeful that some other regional projects are on the verge of receiving government funding.
The province has earmarked $892 million for highway twinning, widening and expansion projects over the next five years, with $169 million of that to be spent in 2016-17. While the exact details of where that money is going to be spent have yet to be divulged, local representatives are hopeful it includes Highway 28.
“I am encouraged,” said Cyr. “I am hoping that we can convince them to do a few more passing lanes (along Highway 28).”
The only funding committed to Highway 28 so far is for a roundabout to be located at the four way stop just past Waskatenau.
Seeing provincial dollars committed to the regional waterline is another item on the local wish list that municipal representatives are hopeful will happen soon. The government has allotted $400 million to water and wastewater projects over the next five years with $80 million committed for 2016-17. While Bonnyville was able to get a $350,000 grant to start preliminary work on the waterline, no significant funding has been guaranteed.
“With our waterline I am hopeful we will be able to at least see some engineering. The way to do it is bite it off in little chunks. We don’t have to pay for the whole thing in one year,” said Sobolewski.
The Bonnyville Covenant Health Centre is item Sobolewski and other municipal representatives have been pushing for funding. The voice and concerns surrounding the local hospital made it down to Edmonton and resulted in Health Minister Sarah Hoffman touring the facility earlier this month.
“The Minister coming down and talking with the Cold Lake mayor and the Bonnyville mayor is a promising direction that the government is going in,” said Cyr. “We are going to find out more when they release the details of projects over the next year.”