Members generally approved of the province’s new funding formula for rural municipalities, although McLauchlin said there was room for improvement.
Premier Danielle Smith, who addressed the convention March 22, was especially well received.
“Her speech was very good. Our members were pleasantly surprised,” McLauchlin told Shootin’ the Breeze after the convention wrapped up.
In her speech, Smith said the 2023 provincial budget would deliver over $2 billion in capital investments to rural municipalities over three years. Her government was working hard to cut ambulance wait times and had signed agreements to bring in doctors from outside Alberta, one of whom is now working full time in Blairmore, she said.
In particular, McLauchlin said budgetary adjustments to rural municipalities’ provincial funding streams show a more genuine partnership between RMA members and the province.
If passed, budget 2023 will tweak Edmonton’s funding formula for rural municipalities by fully indexing rural funding in a given year to provincial revenue from three years earlier, whereas the outgoing formula had indexed funding to half of provincial revenue.
“It’s pegging municipal funding to [Alberta’s] prosperity. We’re fully in agreement with the core concept,” McLauchlin said.
In practice, the president said, baseline funding for rural municipalities under the outgoing Municipal Sustainability Initiative was much more robust three years ago than what members can initially expect from the incoming Local Government Fiscal Framework, which takes hold in 2024.
The RMA remains at loggerheads with the province over the province’s recent “downloading” of financial obligations onto municipalities, including policing costs. Members also want to see orphaned oil and gas wells reclaimed at the industry’s expense, whereas the latest version of the province’s Liability Management Incentive Program (formerly RStar) would subtract companies’ reclamation costs from their provincial royalty payments on non-renewable resources.
To that point, McLauchlin said Energy Minister Peter Guthrie assured RMA members at the convention that the province hopes to consult more with rural municipalities.
“On the whole, this was probably one of the better conventions we’ve had in a while. We feel that we’re being heard,” McLauchlin said.
Scott Johnston, press secretary for Alberta Health, later explained that the Blairmore doctor mentioned in Smith’s speech joined the Crowsnest Pass Health Clinic in late January, having signed a three-year service agreement under the province’s Rural Education Supplement and Integrated Doctor Experience program. The new doctor came from British Columbia and now runs a family practice at the health clinic.