The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board has saved the provincial government at least $6.5 million over the past seven years, according to a report released in December.
The report, from independent third-party service firm MNP, set out to quantify the economic value of the EMRB, which has functioned as a regional collaborating force for the past 15 years.
The board comprises 13 rural and urban municipalities — some of which are seeing booming population growth as more people choose to make their homes in mid-size Alberta cities.
Members include Beaumont, Edmonton, Devon, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Leduc County, Morinville, Parkland County, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Strathcona County and Sturgeon County.
The total population of the region is more than 1.5 million. It's expected to grow by one million more people and 470,000 jobs in the next 25 years, according to the board.
The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board has saved the provincial government millions of dollars, according to a recent report released in December. The report looked at the work of the board, which is made up of 13 rural and urban municipalities. (Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board )
The board's efforts focus on gearing up for that influx of new residents and streamlining the efforts of its community members to cut back on bureaucracy when bringing projects to the provincial government's table.
The MNP report found the EMRB model has generated at least approximately $6.5 million in cost savings for the provincial government since 2017.
The report also found more than $12 million in potential cost efficiencies and credited the board with hundreds of millions of dollars in value creation through efforts such as economic diversification and conservation of agricultural land.
In addition to managing growth, the board has developed initiatives such as creating a climate risk and vulnerability assessment for the region.
Other focus areas include conserving farmland and wetlands, transportation systems, and savings from reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
This work is part of the arterial network that keeps the heart of municipal governance pumping in the region.
"Instead of all 13 municipalities going out and doing that on their own, we do that as a board," EMRB CEO Karen Wichuk said in an interview.
That power in numbers is something that Leduc Mayor Bob Young attests to.
"The province actually pays more attention to something that comes from 13 municipalities rather than just one," Young said.
"In the past, the government would have to meet with every municipality and take our projects back and do their own prioritization."
Growing need for support
"Albertans receive best value for their hard-earned taxpayer dollars when regional municipalities work together," Scott Johnston, press secretary Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, said in a statement to CBC.
But funding has been on the decline — a concern for the board.
Wichuk said there has been a downward progression of $3 million yearly before the pandemic to the current $1 million in annual funding. The MNP report said that amount is enough to cover only 35 per cent of operating costs. Member municipalities contribute $1.9 million to the board annually.
In September, the board said its 13 municipalities generate "one-third of the province's economic activity," with $109 billion in gross domestic product.
Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Gale Katchur said her community and others have been working toward beefing up transit and housing to accommodate more residents.
"It's really about being as efficient as possible and reducing the duplication," said Katchur, adding that collaboration leads to smarter decisions.
"When you sit down and look at the plan and say, 'Why would I build two schools next door, maybe I put one in the middle of two communities' ... in order to save costs."
The declining funding from the Alberta government is a point of concern for the board. (Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board)
For Young, being a part of the board also means going back to the drawing board regarding projects like the regional transit plan, which fell apart after Edmonton city council decided in December 2022 not to fund the project's first phase.
Other interconnected issues include stormwater and waste management.
"When you take a look at the implications it has for the region, for the City of Leduc, to [only] investigate that, it just doesn't make sense," said Young.
"This is a problem that the whole region is going to have to deal with. And it makes more sense to me to deal with it as a region rather than just an individual municipality."
Wichuk said the board's collaboration ultimately allows leveraging the expertise in all 13 communities.
"When you come together with 13 municipalities around a table, and you have the kind of incredible leadership that you have around our table ... we're doing what none of us could do alone."
The EMRB is one of Alberta's two provincially mandated regional growth management boards; the other is the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board.
The province was not involved in the creation of the MNP report.
READ | Report on Quantifying the Economic Value of the EMRB