Premier Smith offers Edmonton help, city councillors indicate it’s not needed

Click to play video: 'Albert government offers to help Edmonton sort its finances amid management exodus'
Albert government offers to help Edmonton sort its finances amid management exodus
WATCH ABOVE: Seven high-level managers have left the cash-strapped City of Edmonton the past year and now, amid the recent departures and financial concerns, the Alberta government has offered the city help — if it wants it. But as Breanna Karstens-Smith explains, critics wonder if the concerns are a political play – Mar 27, 2024

Premier Danielle Smith told reporters Wednesday that the Alberta government is “ready to assist if (the City of Edmonton) would like to ask us for assistance.”

Smith said her government had “received a number of reports that do have us concerned.”

She did not elaborate on exactly what those reports or concerns were aside from saying the city is facing some serious financial challenges.

Those are not a surprise and the city has asked the province for help in solving those challenges.

City councillors have been vocal about the Edmonton’s financial struggles, especially after approving a 6.6 per cent tax increase in November.

Recently, multiple organizations and city departments have asked city council for financial assistance.

At the March 19 urban planning committee meeting, city councillors were told 322 Edmonton Transit Service buses needed to be replaced in the 2023-2026 budget cycle, costing $257.6 million.

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City councillors questioned staff about where that money could come from as the city nears its debt limit.

According to a City of Edmonton spokesperson, total debt servicing is allowed up to 21 per cent of city revenues, although emergencies would allow debt servicing up to 26 per cent of city revenues.

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As of March 12, the city was expected to use 81.2 per cent of its tax-supported debt servicing limit and 51.7 per cent of its total debt servicing limit.

“The City of Edmonton has set a debt limit policy that is more stringent than the Municipal Government Act (MGA) limit, so no, we are not nearing the MGA limit,” the City of Edmonton’s Melanie Reid wrote in an email in response to Global News’ questions.

She added that the city’s budget process and financial reporting is public and that financial statements are audited annually and available online.

“The City of Edmonton is in compliance with our guiding legislation in all aspects of our operation, including with our financial policies, which are well within the legislated limits,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said in a statement Wednesday.

“We have a collaborative working relationship with Premier Smith and cabinet and we will continue to advocate on behalf of Edmontonians for the stable and equitable funding we need. It was clear from the premier’s comments today that there are no inspections or audits planned for the City of Edmonton.”

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Also on Wednesday, NDP Leader Rachel Notley called Smith alluding to concerns a “fear and smear” campaign.

“If the UCP was truly concerned about the fiscal health of Edmonton and any other municipality, then I would suggest they should start funding them more appropriately in line with what they committed when they ran for office,” Notley told reporters.

Sohi has written open letters to provincial ministers asking for funding help for day shelters, transit safety, community safety and housing.

Smith is also offering help after learning seven senior staff have left the City of Edmonton in the past year.

“My staff have reached out to Mayor Sohi’s staff to just let them know that we are standing ready if they need any particular assistance,” she said.

Ward pihêsiwin councillor Tim Cartmell told Global News that was not necessary.

“When you have that number of executives depart, then I think there is something to talk about, something to consider, something to reflect on. But I don’t think we need the province’s help for that,” he said.

Reporters asked Smith why she is voicing concerns about the City of Edmonton and not the City of Medicine Hat which recently saw its mayor sanctioned.

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Smith said Medicine Hat is in better financial standing than the City of Edmonton.

“It looks as though, in different cases, the provincial government has singled out particular municipalities because of ideological differences,” Mount Royal University political science professor Lori Williams said Wednesday.

Reporters asked Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver about whether he shared the premier’s concerns.

“I would say that Edmonton is securely and safely in the hands of the duly elected council of the City of Edmonton,” McIver responded.

Smith said the province would not intervene unless the City of Edmonton asks for assistance.

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