The Northwest Territories government says it’s making progress on reducing its longstanding municipal funding gap, but one MLA believes it’s not enough.
For years, the territory has acknowledged it does not provide funding to match that expected or required by various communities’ municipal governments – and pledged to do better.
In the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, Paulie Chinna, minister of municipal and community affairs, said her department paid out $2.6 million more in community funding this financial year.
The territory has promised to reduce the funding gap by $5 million before the current government ends in 2023.
Chinna said the government is working with the NWT Association of Communities to determine how the funding will be allocated.
Additionally, the minister said the NWT will match federal funding to help municipalities during the pandemic, including payments worth $4.7 million this winter.
The territory is also working on a guide to help municipalities with the transfer of land within their boundaries, Chinna said.
At the moment, land even within municipalities often belongs to the territory – meaning community governments must formally request transfer of the land in order to develop it, a process that many municipal leaders have expressed discontentment with.
Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North, said the territory still ought to do more to help communities. He noted the NWT, by one measure, continues to collectively underfund municipalities by $40.4 million annually.
“We agreed to a municipal funding formula and then, in typical GNWT fashion, we failed to implement it or provide the money,” Johnson said.
“We are still a long way off from reducing that gap.”
Johnson wants the territory to close the gap by an additional $5 million this year, which he said would be a small proportion of the territory’s proposed $451-million capital budget.
That budget, being presented to MLAs this week, is what governs how much the NWT government spends on infrastructure this year. MLAs have already criticized it for being larger than previous years’ capital budgets – Johnson called it an “insult” to communities.
“We in this House don’t deserve to build multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects when our communities cannot make sure their roads and sewers are funded,” he said.
The MLA also expressed concern at the formula governing how the territory funds municipalities, saying the process “lacks certainty.”
Johnson hopes to see legislation pass that will more clearly define how the municipal funding process works.