The Alberta government tabled their 2024 budget last week, and for Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson, it represents another big fiscal win for Alberta.

"Balancing the budget for the third year in a row provides us with a lot of assurity here in the province, especially at a time when we're looking to update our credit rating... That steady focus on fiscal responsibility combined with strategic spending will continue to meet the needs of Albertans today and tomorrow, in my personal opinion."

With drought conditions and the wildfire season being of particular concern this year, a significant amount of funding to prepare for both are big pluses for Sigurdson.

"251 million has gone towards flood and drought mitigation projects such as berms, dams, and reservoirs. And, of course, considering the situation for the dry north, 206 million is being allocated this year to enhance wildfire response, readiness, and planning. I think those numbers reflect how important it is that we continue to invest to keep our communities safe and mitigate what could be a dry season this year."

As Agriculture Minister, he's glad that these issues were given the attention they're due.

"It definitely heavily weighed into budget talks. What we see through having two of the last three years being drought conditions, understanding how our dams and reservoirs are critical infrastructure, and continued investment, what that means for the province's future, especially what that means for our agricultural producers. So of course, we are having more and more talks about how we continue to invest in this infrastructure, understanding what it means for supporting municipalities, and for growing our economy in the future."

Sigurdson was also recently involved in another agricultural budget announcement this week, with the province investing $900,000 in drone services to assess damage to crops for insurance valuation.

A few Foothills-area water water-related projects are getting funding, including money committed for the Foothills/Okotoks raw water pipeline, a Diamond wastewater project, and upgrades to water treatment in Aldersyde and Okotoks.

Sigurdson is also pleased to see funding for local education projects.

"Of course, the complete funding for the final planning and design for the 10-12 school really does get us through that final step required before we put shovels in the ground to build that much-needed school. As well, through infrastructure, $44.5 million to finalize the design and move to a full replacement of the Good Shepherd School. When the gymnasium was pulled down, there were a lot of issues found in the school identifying its much-needed replacement, so to see that that school is going to get replaced is incredible."

The budget has seen some criticism in the week since it was tabled.

Alberta Municipalities has been vocal in their concern over the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) in the last few months.

While they've voiced approval for the LGFF's long-term funding formula, they've been calling for the capital program's baseline to be increased to $1.75 billion rather than $722 million and has reaffirmed their problems with the LGFF in the last few days.

The Town of Okotoks echoed the sentiment leading up to the budget being tabled, with Mayor Tanya Thorn having stated that the program doesn't account for inflation and cannot sustain Alberta's infrastructure in its current state.

Sigurdson, a proponent of the LGFF, notes that since its formula ties future funding levels to provincial revenues from the prior three years and says municipalities will only receive more and more funding as Alberta continues to see success.

"When it comes to municipalities and them calling for more money, I always say if they weren't calling for more money, they wouldn't be doing the job they were elected to do... Our municipalities here, based on the LGFF, will get more money than they did last year and that will continue to grow as the province continues to grow, so I think it provides that sustainability and investment in our municipalities and it also gives that predictability that's going to be important for our municipal leaders to manage their municipalities."

In a follow-up email, the Highwood Constituency, on behalf of Sigurdson, emphasized that Highwood municipalities haven't received a cut in funding compared to last year, with Okotoks to receive $3,437,881 in 2024 compared to $3,209,241 in 2023 under the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI).

While this is true, a January report from the town emphasized a drop in funding in 2024 when compared to the average over the past 10 years of MSI funding, calculated to be $193 per capita, compared to $105 per capita in 2024.

Sigurdson is holding a post-budget town hall at Diamond Valley's Flare 'n Derrick Community Hall tonight (March 7) from 6-7:30 p.m. where he'll discuss the budget and take questions from locals.

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