More councillors not the way to handle Edmonton’s growth: mayor

Watch above: As Edmonton’s population booms, city councillors are trying to keep up with growing demand from their constituents. Kent Morrison looks at the possibility of adding more wards.

EDMONTON – Edmonton’s population is booming. In the last census, Ward 12 grew by 18 per cent.

So, should city council consider adding more wards and more councillors to represent them?

“We have a good functioning structure and I’d be really hesitant to change that,” said Mayor Don Iveson on Tuesday.

“Thirteen is a really productive group of people,” he added. “A lot of board directors, experts, will tell you that’s sort of as large as you want your council to be.”

The cost of expanding is also a concern for the mayor.

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“It’s half a million dollars to add two more councillors. I’m not sure we’d get half a million dollars more productivity out of our council.”

Ward 12 Councillor Amarjeet Sohi says adding more councillors or changing boundaries may be a solution in the future, but agrees it’s not a solution for right now.

“Moving forward in the long run, maybe we need to look at how many councillors do we have.”

However, Sohi says something needs to be done to help councillors who are straining to meet the needs of a growing constituency.

“We need to look at how we continue to provide that quality service that I take pride in. My staff takes pride in providing that quality, timely service and the response to all constituents and we want to maintain that.”

Sohi’s ward includes about 91,000 people and is the second largest in the city. He says he has two staff members that work very hard and often put in unpaid overtime hours.

“I would like to … at least pay them for 40 hours that they work. Or at least maybe have additional part-time staff.”

Ward 12 Councillor Amarjeet Sohi’s schedule for Saturday has eight appointments. Kent Morrison, Global News

Iveson is open to looking at ways to provide council members with more support.

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“The resources the councillors have to respond to growing wards should probably be increased,” he said. “That is something that is going to be discussed in the next budget anyway, so that may put that question somewhat to rest, for now anyway.”

“You’ve got to have that balance of making sure that the resources that we have are optimized to provide that good governance,” added Sohi, “but also make sure that people have access to the councillors. They do have that access now – you want to maintain that. And we want to make sure that is enhanced, not eroded.”

Amarjeet Sohi tours the space set aside for additional council growth. Sept. 17, 2014. Kent Morrison, Global News

Another growth challenge is finding additional office space to house potential future councillors down the road.

City Hall has a designated space for council office expansion, but it would cost about $5 million to retrofit.

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In addition, the space does not currently have elevator access.

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