Explaining the 5.7% tax increase

It was like groundhog day- the movie. Nearly every day since November 26th, Councillors woke up and marched back into chambers to discuss and debate our 4 year $4.3 billion capital budget and our annual operating budget. This was the culmination of a years worth of planning by our administration.

Out of these discussions came two budgets - the 2015-2018 Capital Budget and the 2015 Operating budget.

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The Capital Budget, which is funded through a combination of grants from other levels of government, debt, investment income and some property tax, builds or renews important infrastructure in our city. When we build new fire stations, add to our LRT system or rebuild roads in your neighbourhood, that is the Capital Budget hard at work. Of the $4.3 billion worth of investment committed for 2015 to 2018, 55% of this funding is allocated to growth projects and the remaining 45% is allocated to renewal of our existing infrastructure.

Highlights of the 2015-2018 Capital Budget includes:

  • $1.8 billion for the southeast portion of the Valley Line LRT
  • $615 million for Neighbourhood Renewal Program
  • $220 million for arterial road renewal
  • $20 million for Active Transportation to improve sidewalks and unpopular cycle infrastructure.
  • $12 million for separated bike lanes in Old Strathcona and Downtown
  • $10.2 million for smart bus technology to increase the number of riders and reduce maintenance costs
  • $11.5 million for a new emergency responders radio network for EPS & Fire Rescue.
  • Two new fires stations
  • Design for a new west end recreation centre.

The $2.3 billion Operating Budget, which is funded through a combination of property taxes, user fees, dividends and fines, provides funding to operate the City on a day-to-day basis. The Operating Budget pays for services such as police officers, firefighters, staff at recreation centres, bus drivers, etc.

Highlights of the 2015 Operating Budget includes:

  • $297 million for Edmonton Police Service, which is a 4.4% increase over the 2014 budget and accounts for the addition of 89 new police officers
  • $203 million for Edmonton Transit, which accounts for enhanced services such as new peak period service and late night transit on our busiest routes.
  • $57.2 million for snow removal including a $2.2 million enhancement in service to remove windrows adjacent to and across the street from elementary schools.
  • $3.1 million to continue REACH, a program to provide assistance and programming for at risk youth  
  • $555,000 for 6 new planners & safety codes officers to improve development compliance

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5.7% is the largest tax increase Edmontonians have seen in five years. But this increase is still less than our rate of inflation (2.8%) plus population growth (~3.6%), which equals ~6.4%. This is a benchmark suggested by one of Canada’s most conservative “policy” organizations.

For a typical Edmonton household (valued at $374,500), the approved budgets means $119 a year more or ~$10 more per month, which can be broken down further into the following categories:

  • 1.5% to continue the Neighbourhood Renewal Program
  • 2.9% related to maintain contributed assets (new roads etc.) to staff and operate recently built facilities (rec. centres, fire halls etc.) and to cover inflationary costs of existing services.
  • 0.5% for debt servicing associated with newly approved infrastructure projects in the 2015-18 Capital budget
  • 0.8% for program enhancements such as 89 new police officers, increased funding for seniors centres and snow removal around elementary schools for example.

Some of the highlights for Ward 10.

  • Allendale, Lansdowne and Royal Gardens will either begin to be or will completely be reconstructed as part of the Neighbourhood Renewal Program. Additionally I continue to press for annual inspections of road and sidewalk infrastructure in Grandview to potentially move it up the schedule.
  • All of our elementary schools will now have windrows removed after a plowing cycle.
  • The much maligned bike lanes on 40th Avenue and 106 Street can be improved or moved as result of the funding made available by the Active Transportation fund.
  • Arterial Roads throughout Edmonton including south Edmonton roads will continue to be rebuilt.

Additionally as a result of a .50 cent increase per month in each of our Storm Water and Sanitary Drainage Utilities, hundreds of millions of dollars continues to be invested in flood mitigation and drainage renewal projects throughout Ward 10.  

I believe that these three budgets represent continued investment in infrastructure and programming that is desperately needed, and was seriously lacking until a decade ago; we are now getting value for our money. Council recognized this, which can be seen in the unanimous approval of all three budgets, and the almost 70% unanimous approval of the nearly 100 amendments to the Capital and Operating budgets.

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However, as a homeowner myself, I understand that a 5.7% increase can be difficult to absorb. I cannot imagine the difficulty for those on fixed incomes such as our senior population, which is why this level of increase cannot become a standard for this Council.

I cannot promise there won’t be another increase next year, but I can promise that I am committed to ensuring we achieve a healthy balance between meeting growth demands, building a great city and concern for those least able to pay for it. In 2015, we will be discussing our first multi-year Operating Budget, which will decide the level of funding to service the City for 2016-2018.

It is also important to note that as a city we are working hard to grow our non residential tax base to give some relief to residential taxpayers. We have an Industrial Lands Strategy and are currently proceeding with an Annexation application within Leduc County. This is in addition to the important work being lead by Mayor Iveson on the development of a Big City Charter with the Province of Alberta.

For more information on the City’s budgeting process, check out yegcitybudget.ca. Or, as always, feel free to contact me at michael.walters@edmonton.ca or (780) 496-8132.