Edmontonians weigh in on how city should handle proposed tax increase

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Edmontonians weigh in on how city should handle proposed tax increase
WATCH: Edmonton city councillors say they know where to find savings in a proposed 8.7 per cent tax hike. They just don’t know if people in Edmonton have the stomach for it. Morgan Black explains – Apr 12, 2024

Just one day after the City of Edmonton released its spring operating budget adjustment report suggesting a further tax hike, Edmontonians are sharing their opinions on how the city should handle the tax increase.

“I was having a heart attack, it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Bernie Pettigrew. “Especially after city council gave themselves a raise, which they could have declined. It would have been a nice gesture.”

Pettigrew said she’d be open to seeing cuts to policing, and alternatives to green space maintenance.

“We’re not the only city dealing with this. There are some pretty creative ideas out there,” she added.

“I’m optimistic that the city is going to work for its people, to try and improve things for its people,” said Kyle Kennedy-LeBlanc.

The city’s report recommends a 8.7 per cent tax increase for 2024 — an additional 2.1 per cent increase over what was approved in November 2023.

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Click to play video: '8.7% tax increase recommended to meet Edmonton’s 2024 operating budget'
8.7% tax increase recommended to meet Edmonton’s 2024 operating budget

The city said the tax increase will be higher than expected in 2024 because of the costs to maintain the existing level of services are rising faster than expected. And similar to the previous year, inflationary costs remain a challenge for the city.

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The increase means homeowners should expect to pay $65 more for every $100,000 of their assessed home value in 2024.

“It is hard to ask for more money,” said Andrew Knack, city councillor for Ward Nakota Isga. “There are a few things to consider though, we went last term, from 2019-2022, with the lowest tax increases in 25 years.

“We kept taxes below the rate of inflation because we were in very uncertain times during the pandemic, that was the right thing to do,” Knack continued.

He also pointed to Edmonton’s population growth of approximately 100,000 people over the past two years along with cuts in provincial funding to cities as reasons why the city is in the position it is right now.

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“We are looking at these realities and asking ourselves what is the right thing to do,” Knack continued. “It’s concerning to have to think about an increase like this and yet the alternative is not providing the services people expect, not even keeping up with the growth — let alone potentially improving services.”

Knack said the city’s core budgetary services include policing, fire, transit and infrastructure.

“I haven’t heard from any of my constituents that they want to see cuts in those areas,” he said.

The city said the increase is necessary to respond to several increasing cost pressures and continue to provide the services outlined in the 2023-2026 budget. City administration is also recommending tax levy increases of 8.7 per cent in 2024, 7.0 per cent in 2025 and 6.4 per cent in 2026.

“We’re in a cost of living crisis right now,” said political analyst and pollster Janet Brown. “People are as anxious about their future as I’ve ever seen in all of my years of polling.”

“People are worried about housing affordability and paying for their groceries. Any other hit to their income is going to hurt, and this is a big tax increase,” Brown continued. “The city’s got to prove that it’s justifiable. It’s going to be hard for people to take.”

Brown said the problem the City of Edmonton is facing is not unique. Many cities across the province, and across the country, are in a similar position and facing the prospect of property tax increases.

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The city’s report did not recommend a specific area for cost-savings.

“Unless you’re looking at the single biggest area for tax spending, you’re not going to be able to realize meaningful tax cuts and the biggest areas of spending, like snow removal and road maintenance, are also where people are most concerned about seeing cuts,” Brown added.

The City of Edmonton told Global News a one per cent cut equated to roughly $19 million.

“Cities are in a really tough situation, they cannot run deficits. They rely on the provincial government and the federal government for a big chunk of their funding and we’re seeing now that provincial funding is going away, federal funding is going away,” Brown continued.

“The provincial government is talking about forbidding the municipality from seeking funds directly from the federal government,” Brown said. “So it’s all being downloaded onto cities, and cities have the least amount of flexibility. It lands on the city to try to find the number somewhere and they’ve got nowhere to go but taxpayers.”

“It’s seems like the city is stretched thin,” said Kayla Vanbrabant. “It’s a necessary evil in my eyes.”

with files from Karen Bartko

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