The Nitty Gritty of Budget 2016-18

Update: Council passed the budget last week, settling at a rate of 3.4% for 2016 and 2017, and 4.8% for 2018. This is 2.6 per cent to keep up with growth (15,000 new people moved here last year), plus 0.8 to pay our portion of the Valley Line LRT. For a typical home valued at $401,000, this amounts to a total municipal tax bill of $2,299 for 2016, an increase of $76 dollars from last year. This is an average of $6.32 more each month.

The Process

Last week, City Council held its public hearing on the budget. The meeting was an opportunity for members of the public to come forward with their thoughts on the upcoming Operating Budget, and to speak for or against different funding service packages.

There was a good turnout for the meeting this year, with the dominant themes of low property taxes, celebrating Canada’s 150 Birthday, supporting Edmonton’s Aboriginal peoples, and maintain our progress on roadway renewal. More information on the public feedback on the budget can be found here.

The feedback to my office, thus far, has mostly focused on the first theme: keeping property taxes low. I want people to know that I’ve heard that feedback, and will be very cognizant of the difficulties faced by many Edmontonians when we begin debate on the budget today.

Finding Efficiencies

The City is always working to reduce costs and find efficiencies. It’s the type of work that is never done - there’s always going to be a way that we could shift our practices to make better use of our resources. That’s just the nature of large organizations.

There are a couple of great case studies of finding efficiencies within the City included in the budget. For example, ETS is integrating a new scheduling module into its complex system. The module cost $335,000 up front, but that investment is going to generate $27 million in savings for ETS, and allow them to better allocate their fleet. But positive change doesn’t have to be as big as a new scheduling system - it can be as simple as switching to paperless, a process which the Councillor’s Offices are in the middle of. It’s difficult to adjust to the new world order, but the savings add up over the long term.

In my last budget blog, I touched a little one the upcoming program review that Administration will be undertaking to find efficiencies within each City department. The program review will help to create more efficiency stories like ETS’ new scheduling module. It will be important to have this program review done by an external consultant - that’s the only way that we can have impartiality in assessing each of our programs.

But we’ll also need a team of administration delegates to advise on the process. These delegates can provide context and understanding that no external consultant could gather on their own. The consultant’s impulse might be to cut, cut, cut, but administration delegates will provide some tempering to that response.

But even with an excellent and thorough program review, our City organization is going to continue to grow. And if you are asking yourself why that is, I’ll ask you to look around this city, because it is growing too, growing quickly and inefficiently. There are efficiencies to be found within the City, but that will only take us so far - at some point this city is going to look at our own growth and how it is handled.

The Nitty Gritty

Yesterday afternoon, we begin debating 67 amendments on the budget, four of which I put forward. The four motions that I put forward are:

  • to fund the first part of our Energy Transition Strategy, while waiting for details from the Province’s new Climate Change Strategy to fund the remainder. This motion passed yesterday, to my great delight.

  • to fund an increase to the wildlife management funding to help with problem coyotes.

  • to fund better planning resources in mature neighbourhoods in need of more urgent revitalization and to use our existing programs like Corner Stores, BRZs that help improve neighbourhood commercial redevelopment more effectively.

  • to fund the Edmonton Public Library’s Welcome Baby program.

If you’d like to see all 67 of the amendments to the budget brought forward by Councillors and what was funded and not funded you can check out this document. It will be a tough few days for Council as we sort this out, but it’s well worth it if we can land on efficiency for Edmontonians while still providing important programs that build our City.