Edmonton city council has no appetite to reverse added borrowing recommendation

City Hall in downtown Edmonton, Alberta. April 16, 2015. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

Edmonton city council is expected to approve borrowing an additional $61 million against 2019 provincial funds, to make up a shortfall that was created when Premier Rachel Notley’s government reduced the size of this year’s Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI).

City council will vote Tuesday on a package of capital projects that will wrap up the current four-year construction budget. The list includes design work for future projects, road widenings and cost adjustments for existing projects. A new four-year budget for 2019-2022 will be presented to council in the fall.

Even though additional borrowing is needed to cover the missing $61 million, there’s no appetite on council to scale back the work.

“Probably we could compound the problem by cancelling projects and putting more people out of work,” Councillor Tony Caterina said.

“I think we want to err on the side of keeping people working and continuing to provide the projects on an ongoing basis.”

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Councillor Andrew Knack said the real problem will come in the fall, when the Notley government finally unveils what will replace MSI.

“We have limited funds,” he said. “Particularly without the firm commitment yet around what will replace the provincial funding come March 31, 2022. I think that will hamper how much will go into the next four-year budget.

“Speaking for myself, there’s zero desire to see us expand what we can carry for debt. I think our limit is an appropriate amount, so I don’t want to see us moving beyond that, but that’s going to mean some really tough choices come November, December.”

He said much of what council will spend in the coming years is already spoken for with billions earmarked for projects like the LRT to west Edmonton and converting the Yellowhead into a free-flow freeway.

The 2015-2018 budget that is wrapping up was worth just shy of $6 billion.