Mayor Richard Ireland speaks during a Franco-Albertan flag raising ceremony at École Jasper Elementary School on Friday, March 8, 2024. | Peter Shokeir / Jasper Fitzhugh Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The 2024 Alberta budget gives Mayor Richard Ireland a lot of food for thought but especially when it comes to the capital plan for infrastructure spending.

Ireland said that one topic is probably the most significant component right now both for Jasper and all municipalities across the province.

As far as Banff, Canmore and Jasper are concerned, however, his expectation is that these three mountain tourist towns will all experience a reduction in capital funding through this transition from the Municipal Sustainability Initiative infrastructure program (MSI) to the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF).

“That is concerning,” Ireland said. “That dollar amount for us is a little over $350,000. Alberta Municipalities, our provincial body, has taken issue with the fact that the entire amount of LGFF capital is way below what it should be.”

Between 2007 and 2023, the MSI was the provincial program accessed by municipalities to help fund the building and rehabilitation of key infrastructure such as roadways, bridges, water and wastewater systems and other civic-minded facilities related to public transit or recreation and sports, among other things. 

According to Alberta Municipalities, provincial infrastructure funding to municipal governments has dropped by 64 per cent since 2011, leaving municipalities to face an estimated $30 billion infrastructure deficit that will worsen.

As presented by Finance Minister Nate Horner on February 29, Budget 2024 Capital Plan has earmarked a $25 billion investment for infrastructure projects, a $2 billion bump up from Budget 2023.

The highlights include a $7.2 billion investment over three years, which includes $2.4 billion for LGFF funding and $60 million for the new Local Growth and Sustainability Grant Program to help municipalities fund economic development and sustainable growth initiatives.

Mayor Ireland said this is not enough.

“There are infrastructure deficits all across the province. It is lower than we all would have wanted.”

Infrastructure is a perennial problem in Jasper. As with other tourist towns, growing visitation puts exponential pressures on local roads, water and wastewater, and other amenities. Approximately one-third of the municipality’s total annual expenditures goes to visitor facing infrastructure and service demands.

One year ago, the province gave a $1.5 million boost to the Municipality of Jasper’s project to upgrade its two decade-old wastewater treatment plant. The project’s total estimated price tag was $3.6 million.

At the time of the boost, it was reported to the Fitzhugh that the volume of work the plant manages suggests that Jasper is a town of 30,000, approximately six times the town’s permanent population.

The province continues to tout Jasper as one of its gems for a growing focus on Alberta’s tourism economy, but you can’t have one without the other, meaning infrastructure to accommodate that growth.

Jasper National Park recorded nearly 2.5 million visitors last year, a growth of one-half a million from the previous year that now brings it to peak beyond pre-pandemic levels. Ten years ago, visitation was just barely reaching 2 million.

“We are in an internationally competitive market,” Ireland said.

“If the province wants to grow tourism, as it indicates it does, then what Travel Alberta is calling the legacy communities, we have to remain competitive in an international marketplace. And that means our infrastructure cannot be failing: it can’t be falling apart. It has to be effectively world class in its presentation if we’re going to stay relevant in that international market.”

There is hope, however. The provincial budget has yet to pass, and Mayor Ireland said that he has his fingers crossed that there will be extra funding put in Jasper’s way to help further alleviate the infrastructure funding gap once it does.

“We’ll see whether the whole of government approach can accentuate the importance of a tourism-based community to the overall health of tourism in the province and allow the provincial government to achieve its tourism-related goals.”

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 11, 2024 at 17:00

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

Comments are Welcome - Use the 'Join the Discussion' above any replies, or 'TheRegional / Chat' below replies. Both links take you to the same place. You will be asked to become a registered user if you are not one already - Posts are moderated