Delegates warned tough budget coming.
SASKATOON — Saskatchewan’s rural municipalities sent a clear message to the provincial government on Tuesday: They want to retain their share of one per cent of the provincial sales tax (PST).
Delegates to the 110th annual convention of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) heard the association’s acting president Ray Orb call on the province to keep its commitment to share 20 per cent of PST revenue with rural and urban municipal governments.
Orb downplayed the impact of falling oil prices on the provincial economy, which has prompted Premier Brad Wall to suggest his government may reconsider the commitment in this year’s budget.
“If all we had in Saskatchewan was oil and gas, then maybe we would have something to be concerned about,” Orb told hundreds attending the convention at Prairieland Park. “Our diversity will keep our economy strong when certain commodities are devalued.”
Later Tuesday, delegates representing the province’s 296 rural municipalities overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution urging the province not to decrease the revenue sharing grant for 2015 and 2016.
Orb noted the province’s agricultural exports were worth $12 billion in 2013 and potash exports topped $3 billion for the last three years.
“We will hold the province to its commitment to share one per cent of the PST with municipalities,” he told delegates.
Orb said he hopes to hear a more specific commitment from Wall when he addresses delegates today, noting the budget must be complete as it is set to be tabled next week.
He told reporters later that rural infrastructure needs, like road works and repairs due to flooding, need to be addressed.
“We just can’t afford to slow down,” Orb said.
However, Government Relations Minister Jim Reiter warned in his address to delegates that “tough budget decisions” await due to falling oil prices and the resulting decline in resource revenue.
“Everything needs to be on the table,” he told delegates.
He also touted the provincial economy as “dynamic” and “diversified,” noting growth in Lloydminster has been greater on the Saskatchewan side the last few years, a dramatic reversal.
In an interview, Reiter said the province will take a serious look at the resolutions passed at the convention, many of which direct SARM’s leadership to lobby the province for money for various initiatives; however, he warned that the delegates should not get their hopes up.
“Given the climate going into this budget, there’s not going to be a lot of new money,” he said.
Reiter also promised new rules to prevent conflicts of interest, referring specifically to the recent removal by the province of the reeve of the RM of Sherwood.
The principles for compensation when growing urban centres need to annex territory from rural areas will also be revised, after reactions to current guidelines were found to be “mixed,” Reiter added.