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$2.6 million for NWT communities too little to close municipal funding gap, MLA says

The $2.6 million in funding for municipalities doesn't go far enough in closing the $40 million municipal funding gap, said Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday. GNWT image

Municipal and Community Affairs will provide $2.6 million towards closing the funding gap for municipalities in the NWT, MACA Minister Paulie Chinna announced on Oct. 20.

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, however, slammed it as a drop in the bucket compared to the ongoing $40-million municipal funding gap.

The move is in line with MACA's commitment to close the municipal funding gap by $5 million, while the gap currently sits at $40 million, according to the NWT Association of Communities (NWTAC). It has been at that level for more than a year, as NWTAC executive director Sara Brown said in August 2019.

Paulie Chinna, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, announced $2.6 million in funding towards closing the funding gap with NWT municipalities, in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 20. GNWT image

As Chinna explained, $2.6 million will go into community funding. Another $4.7 million – to be matched with federal investment through the Safe Restart Agreement – will help communities “put in place appropriate precautions to manage public spaces and critical services,” which would be allocated this winter.

“Since its beginning, MACA has worked with the NWTAC and its members on the funding strategy. As part of that ongoing engagement, we are determining how best to allocate the $2.6 million,” Chinna said.

Johnson said he's happy to hear about the new funding but it doesn't go far enough in closing the gap

“Municipal roads, sewers and basic infrastructure are degrading from a lack of maintenance and unstable footings,” he said. “We defund our municipalities (by) $9.6 million in operations and maintenance, $6.5 million in environmental, $24.3 million in capital for a total of $40.4 million every single year.

“As we're about to approve one of the largest capital budgets in NWT history, largely due to carry-overs because we can't get the money out the door, it's insulting to our communities. They can get their money out the door, and better than us they will make sure it is spent in our communities and employs local Northerners.

"We in this House don't deserve to build multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects when our communities can't make sure their roads and sewers are funded.”

Johnson then asked if MACA could increase the budget in capital funding for municipalities by $5 million.

“If we can't find a quarter of a percent in our $2-billion budget then we're truly not in charge of our budget,” he said.

Chinna responded that for now $2.6 million is all that is available.

The Yellowknife MLA doubled down with criticism of the way municipalities are funded, saying the process lacks certainty, unlike with education authorities where funding goes through set parameters.

He also pointed out MACA's commitment to work with NWTAC to update policies and options, but he's not convinced it would be completed by 2023. He asked if that work could be sped up.

He then noted that the previous legislative assembly made “a concerted effort” to close the funding gap but that it didn't keep up with inflation.

“There needs to be more certainty and I believe legislation is a tool to do that," said Johnson. "Can the minister speak on her plan to make sure that the gap doesn't re-emerge for any progress this assembly does make on it?”

Chinna responded that Covid has presented unusual circumstances and burdened MACA's processes.

“Making a commitment to work with this is quite complex,” she said, adding that she would follow up with Johnson and discuss the issues with her department.