Grande Spirit Foundation in Grande Prairie, Alta. on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. (Photo by Jesse Boily)Jesse Boily

The Grande Spirit Foundation (GSF) has a $3.894 million deficit due to rising costs and inflation, according to board member and city Coun. Chris Thiessen.

“That’s just the cost of doing business status quo,” he said.

Another reason for the deficit is that GSF has begun an amortization requisition, which looks at the depreciation of its buildings, said Steve Madden, GSF Chief Administrative Officer. 

“The amortization recognition from (the board) was a big step, and that is going to help greatly when we start looking at maintenance repairs in the future.”

He said amortization provides a depreciation calculation for each building, noting it was an important step so GSF can better plan reserves for future items as they age and need repairs or replacement while also evaluating current buildings.

“The (GSF board) want to be more prudent with what they do for the future when it comes to financial accountability because they realize we can handle one furnace here and one furnace there, but if it’s all of them at once and everything happens in a two- or three-year period then it may be too much to handle,” said Madden.

He said amortization wasn’t previously done and was recommended by the province. 

The new accounting measure ensures that buildings are being looked after and can be kept longer, said Madden.

“You can’t function in these buildings for 50 years and then pass it on to future generations and say, here you go. 

“We have to do that now to be ready for the future so that they can either upgrade the building or replace it.”

GSF represents 11 local municipalities providing 1,900 families and seniors with affordable housing and owns and operates five senior lodges in the region while operating other provincial or municipal buildings in the region. 

To bring the deficit down, GSF will use some of its operational reserves and raise rent on residencies, something he says the board was not initially comfortable with, said Thiessen.

“The direction that we took as a finance committee and presented to the GSF board was to minimal raises the rents to all of our income earners at the different lodges, nothing that would break their bank and the rest we dealt to municipal requisitions.”

Thiessen said over a dozen hours of meetings were had with the GSF finance committee, which he is a member, to find the “right course of action for GSF.”

He pointed to inflation as a significant cause of the cost increase.

The new GSF senior apartments facility in Spirit River will also add to the deficit by about $500,000, said Madden.

“Alberta Health Services is doing their best to create the capacity that they need in their staffing to ensure that their units are filled,” he said, noting GSF is also looking into ways to help AHS fill the vacancies.

Additionally, Madden says utility bills have increased significantly due to inflation but believes it is becoming more “under control” as they negotiate contracts; which was recently done with its electricity provider. 

He also says items such as mortgage renewals are higher in price. 

Still, Madden says GSF operations will not be affected.

“This is just getting us to a service level to where we need to be,” he said.

Madden says GSF receives funding from three primary sources: rent from its residents, the province, and municipal requestions. The total budget for GSF in 2024 is $24.1 million.

Madden said the average taxpayer will pay about $10 to $15 in tax requisitions annually. 

“It’s in the cost of a coffee and muffin range,” he said.

Thiessen said he believes it’s a “good deal” if it ensures “seniors are well fed, taken care of and have a roof over their head and that we can continue to build more houses for them going forward.”

“We’re happy to get the type of support that we did from the (GSF) board, and we’re prepared to defend our decision if we are challenged in the public or by our councils,” said Thiessen.

He said GSF has also received a grant from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) that could be worth up to $10 million.

“That is pretty uncommon; GSF seems to be one of the few housing management body organizations that got it,” he said.

The grant will cover 40 per cent of capital maintenance on replacement and renewal of energy efficiency of its properties. 

He said the grant can be applied to projects from the past two years and the next three years and combined with other available grants.

Madden says according to a GSF housing assessment, Madden says about 3,800 households in the GSF region would qualify for affordable or social housing.

He hopes that more projects can move forward, such as creating more affordable or social housing in the Smith neighbourhood in the city. The proposed Smith housing project would add another 160 units.

“Where we’re going next is trying to figure out how to get more housing ability out there, whether it’s physical housing like that or rent subsidies, we’re not sure, but we’re pushing hard on all levels of government,” said Madden.

More provincial funding

The province announced $16 million in capital maintenance and renewal funding for affordable housing on Nov. 22. 

GSF will receive $250,000 of the announced funds for repairs at its provincially owned buildings, such as Amisk Court in Beaverlodge.

Madden said about $17,000 will go to Amisk Court for the building’s envelope updates. 

The Ross Haven units in Spirit River and Summerset in Eaglesham will have about $60,000 of the funding for those building’s envelope updates.

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 30, 2023 at 09:49

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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