“It’s not enough to match the population growth and the explosion of the growth that we have experienced in other municipalities,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said Thursday

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The province’s 2024 budget plans to boost police presence in Edmonton and allocate funding towards major roadways and LRT projects.

On Thursday, the Alberta government announced its budget for 2024, which will commit $7.2 billion over the next three years towards municipal infrastructure support. The new price tag is $716 million more than Budget 2023. Edmonton will also see $158 million in 2024-2025 under the Local Government Fiscal Framework funding which aims to support municipal priorities.

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At a news conference with reporters before the budget was unveiled, Finance Minister Nate Horner said Alberta’s population growth is increasing demand for housing and support spending in the province.

“Budget 2024 is a responsible plan to strengthen health care and education. It builds safe and supportive communities, manages our resources wisely and promotes job creation to build over this competitive advantage,” Horner said.

“Through Budget 2024 we are attracting more investment, supporting more jobs and developing a skilled and diversified workforce to keep our economy growing budget.”

Community safety and court funding

The province will add 100 street-level police officers in high-crime locations in Edmonton and Calgary which will be funded through the $12-billion operating budget for Public Safety and Emergency Services. Through the plan, police and crisis teams (PACT) in both cities will see police constables operating in pairs with mental health therapists from Alberta Health Services to respond to mental health-related calls.

The ministry has also committed to enhancing efforts to combat gun and gang violence by leveraging federal funding.

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Correctional and justice facilities will receive $42 million in capital funding to plan and provide upgrades.

Edmonton Law Courts and the Sherwood Park Courthouse will each receive $2 million for capital planning work.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told reporters on Thursday afternoon, he is looking forward to the details on the budget but aspects such as investment into public safety, housing and shelters, and addiction recovery, are steps in the right direction.

While Sohi said what was announced on Thursday was more than the previous budget, it is not enough to match the population growth.

“It’s not enough to match the population growth and the explosion of the growth that we have experienced in other municipalities,” Sohi said. “Budgets are very complex documents. You always need to make sure that you’re investing time in understanding them.”

Shelter funding promised

While no specific dollar amount is being allocated to Edmonton for shelters, the province plan to “add hundreds” of new homeless shelter spaces through the Homelessness Task Force Action Plan.

An anticipated increase of $24.5 million in 2024-2025 and $70 million across three years will go towards supporting operation costs pressures and adding new shelters.

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The Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence program which oversees women’s shelters and services related to counselling for victims of sexual assault will receive $85 million in 2024-2025.

Over three years, $15 million will go towards implementing Alberta’s Safe Streets Action Plan.

Upgrades for major infrastructure

Some funding for major highways in the Edmonton and Calgary regions were announced prior to Thursday’s budget 2024. Both cities will collectively see $955 million to improve roadways, including upgrades to streets, highways and the addition of pedestrian lanes.

Yellowhead Trail will receive $145 million in upgrades to modify three intersections and build new collector roads. Terwillegar Drive will receive $124 million to expand the roadway to alleviate traffic congestion, add bus and pedestrian lanes.

Over the next three years, $8 million will go towards upgrades to 50 Street, while the Ray Gibbon Drive Upgrade Project will receive $31 million over three years.

To improve Edmonton’s transit infrastructure, the province is dedicating $887 million for LRT projects in the city.

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The industrial hub northeast of Edmonton will receive $50 million towards expanding water and wastewater infrastructure.

Post-secondary investments in Edmonton

The province’s post-secondary budget also sets aside money for Edmonton colleges and universities.

Over the next three years, MacEwan University’s business school will receive $75 million to expand capacity by 5,000 students in high-demand economic sectors.

NAIT will see $43 million in funding for learning in trades and technology.

The University of Alberta Hospital Brain Centre’s neurosciences intensive care unit will receive $58 million across three years.

Health dollars for city

While planning has been paused on south Edmonton’s hospital, the province did announce in budget investments in continuing care centres and service delivery. A $10-million legacy grant, which was previously announced, will go towards the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation, an initiative founded by the Royal Alexandra Hospital. The funding will be used to continue research into women’s health.

The Gene Zwozdesky Centre at Norwood will receive $69 million and the Good Samaritan Society Continuing Care Centre will receive $113 million over three years.

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And, as announced prior to the budget, $20 million over the next three years has been earmarked for a standalone Stollery Children’s Hospital.

The scope of health care services planned for the south Edmonton hospital pushed the project’s budget to nearly $5 billion, making it one of the most expensive in Canada. The government said the decision to halt the project was made to allow time to reassess the planning and funding allocated to the hospital.

In a Thursday news release, Alberta Municipalities said it is “discouraged” by the budget 2024 announcement. It cited similar concerns as Sohi surrounding the strain Alberta’s massive population growth has had on the province.

“Alberta’s population growth in the last few years has been remarkable, but it is putting tremendous strain on existing roads, bridges, water and wastewater treatment facilities, energy infrastructure, schools, recreation facilities and hospitals. A long-range strategic plan for infrastructure (complete with funding), with input from municipalities, is critical to addressing this extraordinary challenge,” Alberta Municipalities stated.

With files from Matthew Black

ctran@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kccindytran

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