Edmonton mayor, Alberta government meet to talk about Sohi’s 6-page funding letter

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Mayor meets with municipal affairs minister about funding'
Edmonton Mayor meets with municipal affairs minister about funding
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi met with Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver to ask for tens of millions of dollars in funding support. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports. – May 6, 2024

There could soon be movement on money the City of Edmonton says it is owed by the Alberta government, according to Edmonton’s mayor.

It’s been a month since Amarjeet Sohi penned a six-page letter to the province. In it, he outlined nine areas the city said the province owes tens of millions in funding.

Now, Sohi has taken the requests to the Municipal Affairs department in person, meeting with Minister Ric McIver on Monday to reiterate the need for that funding.

“I was very clear that I wasn’t there to ask for more, I was there to ask for restoration of the support that we had in the past,” Sohi said Monday after the meeting he described as productive.

Click to play video: 'Sohi sends letter to Smith detailing ways the province can help Edmonton financially'
Sohi sends letter to Smith detailing ways the province can help Edmonton financially

Key among the issues is a grant the province has reduced payments towards.

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The province is not required to pay taxes to the City of Edmonton on its properties, but a long-standing grant program has seen the province essentially reimburse the city for some of those costs.

In 2019, that amount was reduced to 50 per cent. Sohi asked the province to retroactively pay back the difference – to the tune of more than $60 million. Now, that amount has increased.

By the end of 2024, the city now says it will be short $80 million.

“It’s a big chunk of money that we used to get from the province,” Sohi said. “It’s equivalent to close to one per cent of property tax increase that we have to implement.

Last month, Edmonton city council voted to approve changes to the operating budget that will result in an 8.9 per cent property tax hike in 2024, 7 per cent in 2025 and 6.3 per cent in 2026.

The city said the tax increase will help the city “respond to several budget pressures that have increased significantly” since the city constructed the current budget in 2022.

Two weeks ago, Sohi said the province paying its property taxes would help put the city in a better position — a message he reiterated on Monday.

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“Having all that money restored will go a long way to us relieving some of the pressures on property taxes.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton city council approves 8.9% property tax increase in 2024'
Edmonton city council approves 8.9% property tax increase in 2024

The mayor is confident a solution will be found.

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“There was no firm commitment but there was a very strong desire to continue to work with us,” Sohi said of McIver’s response to his requests.

McIver also said it was a cordial and productive discussion and he would take the city’s concerns up the chain.

“On some of those, I told him we would take those up internally and see what may or may not be able to be done,” McIver said.

Not on the agenda: Bill 20. The proposed law, introduced last month by Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party government, would give cabinet broad authority to dismiss councillors and overturn local bylaws.

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The bill would also allow political parties to run in municipal elections — for now in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta’s two largest cities.

Click to play video: 'Political analyst expects municipal political parties if Bill 20 passes'
Political analyst expects municipal political parties if Bill 20 passes

If passed, the law would also open the door to corporations and unions being able to donate in municipal elections, which was banned by the previous New Democrat government under former premier Rachel Notley.

Edmonton city council has been firmly against the bill.

Click to play video: 'Civic Matters: Working with the provincial government'
Civic Matters: Working with the provincial government

On Friday, the province said it would be open to hearing from municipalities with amendments being made this week. Critics say that’s not enough.

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“One weekend is a pretty small window of time for credible and genuine consultation with Albertans,” said Kyle Kasawski, Alberta NDP critic for Municipal Affairs.

Mciver said in recent days, he’s spoken with both the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary, along with the presidents of both Alberta Municipalities and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

McIver said the bill must be passed during the current legislative session, which only has 14 sitting days remaining.

“It’s a bit of a rush simply because the next municipal election is halfway through next year, or, the third Monday in October,” McIver explained.

“The municipal officials that actually administer that election need several months to get ready – and if there’s changes, they need some time to get ready for that too.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta Municipalities ‘caught off guard’ by details of Bill 20'
Alberta Municipalities ‘caught off guard’ by details of Bill 20

Before that, Edmonton’s current mayor is clear: he wants Bill 20 scrapped altogether and said he spoke with McIver on Friday about that.

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“Both Bill 18 and Bill 20 are bad pieces of legislation – they should both be withdrawn and then let’s sit down with the municipalities and figure out the best way forward to resolve whatever issues that province wants to resolve,” the mayor said.

Sohi said he did not bring it up again during Monday’s meeting and chose to focus instead on the funding issues.

“The purpose of the meeting was not to discuss Bill 18 or Bill 20 — we asked for this meeting to specifically talk about the financial challenges that City of Edmonton is facing because of the downloading, operation, the responsibility onto municipalities.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

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