April 5, 2011 2:18 pm

City windfall could be used to fund LRT

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The city has an unexpected $16.6-million windfall for this year’s budget, and one councillor wants the whole amount put toward LRT construction.

There will be $7.6 million more tax revenue in 2011 than foreseen when Edmonton’s budget was passed last December, according to a new report.

In addition, the province has boosted its education property tax – which makes up almost half the total residential property tax bill – by less than the 3.9-per-cent civic hike council approved.

This means the city can spend an extra $9 million in 2011 and still keep the average overall tax increase to 3.9 per cent.

Coun. Amarjeet Sohi says this is a chance to help pay for expansion of Edmonton’s LRT system.

“This is money that became available to the municipality. We have an option. We can return it back to taxpayers, but LRT is a high priority,” he said Tuesday.

“We have to find the money somehow. We can return it this year and tax it next year. This is about moving forward on the priorities Edmontonians have identified.”

The proposed LRT line from Lewis Estates to Mill Woods has an estimated price of $3.2 billion, with the city hoping the provincial and federal governments will each cover one-third of the cost.

Sohi estimated that if the extra money came every year, it would cover city payments on a loan of almost $200 million.

But the report, which will be discussed Wednesday by city council, recommends first using the cash to pay the new $10.3-million annual cost to search licence plates caught by photo radar and bylaw tickets.

The province started charging a $15 fee April 1 for each search, which is needed to process tickets.

Sohi said Mayor Stephen Mandel has written to the province asking to have the fee reconsidered, and he would like the issue handled separately.

The province already receives 27 per cent of ticket revenue, he said.

“Is that 27 per cent not enough to cover the province’s costs in all areas, including the licence plate charge?”

The city will set the final mill rate this spring. Tax bills will be sent out in May.

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