June 20, 2012 4:42 pm

Edmonton: get ready to pay more in property taxes next year

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EDMONTON – Just over a month after the 2012 property tax notices went out, the focus is now on just much you’ll be paying on your next year’s tax bill.

City staff presented a preliminary tax increase amount of 8.6 percent to maintain service levels, deal with inflation, and labour agreements, as well as some new services. The amount was undeniably a bit steep – even to some councillors.

“Aboslutely, I think it’s high,” admitted Coun. Karen Leibovici.

But Coun. Dave Loken cautions that the number has not been set in stone.

“We’re not approving anything today,” he explained. “The citizen sees this number of 8 percent. At first they get all excited about that which I think is misleading. Because last time the number came in high, and we ended up setting the mill rate lower.”

Council has now directed administration to work under a scenario of a 5.5 percent tax increase for next year, which would just cover current services and neighbourhood renewal, with up to 1.6 percent more for improved or additional programs. 

“These rates are getting to the point where … they’re not sustainable,” said Coun. Kerry Diotte, adding the proposed tax increase is double Edmonton’s consumer inflation rate.

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“In my point of view, (they) hurt the people who can least afford it.”

While revenues are expected to rise by $26 million next year, mainly because of new buildings, the amount needed for services is forecast to grow more than twice as much.

“The challenge you face is that on the one side, you want to control costs and then on the other side, people want services,” said Mayor Stephen Mandel.

The way to keep the cost low and services high may be to increase efficiency. Chief financial officer Lorna Rosen said the city has saved about $70 million in the past three years by becoming more efficient.

Coun.Leibovici believes one way to further improve our efficiency is to cut the layers of red tape when it comes to, for example, getting projects approved, can help cut costs.

“If you have a piece of paper of paper, for instance that travels from desk a to b to c to d – and I’m not sure that is what happens, but if that is what happens then we need to look at how do we be more efficient.”

Coun. Loken stresses city workers need to be part of that conversation.

“Get them involved in the everyday decision making – talk to them to see how things can be more efficient, talk to them about costs.”

In Mandel’s eyes, it’s not about trimming, but rather “about changing how you do the jobs that you deliver,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s something we haven’t looked at. And whether or not we’re willing to do that is another story.”

The final average civic tax hike this year was 5.2 per cent. Total tax bills went up by 5.7 per cent when the provincial education levy is included. Each percentage of tax increase means an additional 10.4 million dollars for city coffers.

The 2013 budget will be debated in November.

 

With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News and Gordon Kent, Edmonton Journal 

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