The 115th annual Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) convention took place last month from February 2 to February 5 in Regina. With its theme being Building Sustainable Hometowns, the idea is to get mayors and councilors thinking about the future of their municipalities, about economic development, and about what needs to be done to ensure that their hometown can remain a healthy community. Wakaw’s mayor, Steve Skoworodko, and all the councilors attended the event in Regina, and reported that there were some good sessions to take in. Mayor Skoworodko also noted there were great networking opportunities with other communities and the provincial government.
Probably one of the biggest things coming out of the Convention this year was the announcement by Premier Moe, that there would be an increase in revenue sharing, which according to Skoworodko is anticipated to be an 11% increase. The province’s municipal revenue sharing program is based on three-quarters of one point of provincial sales tax revenue collected from the fiscal year two years prior to the current year, so in this case, money received by municipalities in 2020 is based on amounts of PST collected by the province in 2018. The provincial budget is set to be released on March 18th, so by the beginning of April the communities will know the dollar figure that they can expect. The revenue sharing program is one source of revenue that communities can count on when they are looking at infrastructure and construction. With Saskatchewan’s relatively small population, it can be difficult for communities to pay for the improvements needed to their infrastructure solely from their own tax base. “When I talk to our members; sewer, water, lagoons are the big issues for many of these communities. The province has been putting money into that, but we’re scratching the surface and we’re certainly going to have to have more,” stated SUMA/Municipalities of Saskatchewan president Gordon Barnhart.
Additionally, Premier Moe announced that of the increased revenue sharing, $1.5 million will be invested in the Targeted Sector Support Initiative for Municipalities. The TSS “will be used to encourage inter-community collaboration and good governance in all Saskatchewan municipalities. The funds will be used to support projects that help advance the priorities set by the Steering Committee. For successful projects, the TSS Initiative will offer 75 per cent of the project's eligible costs to the specified maximum amount in each stream, as funds are available. This means that project partners will be required to contribute 25 per cent of the eligible costs.” (saskatchewan.ca/government/municipal-administration/funding-finance-and-asset-management/funding) There are of course eligibility requirements for this funding, but it is another avenue of funding municipalities can access.
It wasn’t all ‘warm fuzzies’ between the delegates and Premier Moe’s government though. In 2017, the provincial government added the provincial sales tax to construction and this is still an issue that rankles municipal leaders. Rate payers already pay for construction costs through their tax dollars, to add the PST to those projects is a tax on a tax. The municipal leaders plan to continue lobbying the government to give a PST exemption for construction projects. Opposition leader Ryan Meili is in favour of an exemption, but Premier Moe said any information on the PST will be revealed on budget day.
Also coming out of the convention was a new name for the association. The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association was rebranded as the Municipalities of Saskatchewan. Gordon Barnhart stated, “The name Municipalities of Saskatchewan encompasses all of our communities – our cities, towns, villages, resort villages, and northern municipalities – and demonstrates the true breadth and strength of Saskatchewan’s hometowns.” However, we have yet to hear back on how the rural municipalities are reacting to the new name. It would be easy to mistakenly assume that this body represents all the municipalities in the province, but it does not. There was a resolution put forward at the convention to approach the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) about the idea of merging the two entities; to “engage in exploratory discussions to merge the two associations into one new unified municipal association.” Sentiment among the then SUMA delegates however, were not supportive and the resolution was defeated. Many felt that there were so many splits and divisions within their own organization about priorities between big and small communities, that to involve rural interests as well would not work out well for anyone. “We’ve got to get our own house in order and represent our whole sector,” said Greg Dionne, mayor of Prince Albert. “The needs and interests are so vastly different within SUMA already,” echoed Mayor Steve Skoworodko, “from villages to towns to cities, that adding in the RM’s wouldn’t have worked.” Yet, it would seem a name indicating such a merger had happened, did not seem erroneous to the majority of the delegrates.
While there was a breakout session on Waste Management and Recycling, Mayor Skoworodko said that he did not attend the session. He indicated that the session really held no new information to help towns and villages deal with the recycling challenge and that in talking with other municipalities he has found that they are just as frustrated with the decreased amount of recycling as people in Wakaw are and no one seems to have a future plan and until such a time as a plan is formulated, the products that can no longer be recycled will just have to go to the landfill as waste. This, he admitted, is not ideal but for now that is all the town is able to do.
It will be interesting to see what comes out of the SARM Convention scheduled for March 9 – 12 in Regina. One of the resolutions delegates will be voting on is one that states “provincial and municipal jurisdictions across Canada continue to struggle with waste management, specifically recycling and other waste programs. There is a strong public demand for recycling programs to divert waste materials from our landfills; however, the present programs suffer from high costs (administration, collection, sorting, etc.) and lack of markets for recovered material.” The resolution proposes incineration of these materials to produce energy. Whether this resolution passes or not, and what the government’s reaction may be is anyone’s guess. It’s safe to say though, that the recycling question is far from over.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder