October 18, 2018 3:21 pm
Updated: October 18, 2018 8:29 pm

LRT, Yellowhead, fixing roads mean big numbers for Edmonton capital budget

WATCH: The debt debate will be front and centre at Edmonton city hall soon, with councillors looking at how much more red ink should be added to get things built. Vinesh Pratap crunches the numbers.

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The numbers are big in the four-year capital budget that was released Thursday afternoon by the City of Edmonton.

It proposes spending $4.3 billion for construction projects between 2019 and 2022 — more when you add those projects that take longer than four years to build. It recommends council spend roughly $1 billion a year (using up $4.3 billion), plus another $850 million in years following the four-year budget cycle.

Scroll down to read the full Capital Budget 2019-2022.

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Nearly half of the total amount covers projects city council has already approved, like LRT, Yellowhead Trail, Fort Edmonton Park and Blatchford. Since some projects, including LRT and Yellowhead, take longer than four years to complete, almost $1 billion will extend beyond the year 2023 to give council an overall budget of $5.2 billion.

READ MORE: Edmonton council expects many unanswered questions in Thursday’s budget release

The budget sticks to the current format of 45 per cent being used to fix roads, neighbourhoods and current infrastructure, with 55 per cent being used for planning and building future infrastructure.

After subtracting the already-dedicated money, there’s just $200 million for projects on the wish list, like the Lewis Estates rec centre or upgrading Terwillegar Drive or rebuilding Stadium LRT Station to improve safety. Other projects that haven’t yet made the cut include a police firing range and replacing street lights with LED bulbs.

“Because of the uncertainty with the province, but also because of the fiscal realities of the time here, we’re not going to be able to fund every growth project that folks would like,” Mayor Don Iveson said.

“We’re going to have to be quite cautious about how we use debt to do anything.

“I’m very interested in advancing design work in the first phase of the Terwillegar based on the work we’ve done recently. I think there’s design work for some other projects that can advance even if the projects themselves are still a few years out.”

Over the four years, the wish list items total more than $335 million, which would raise property taxes 2. 38 per cent — or an average annual increase of 0.39 per cent.

The budget already increases property tax bills by one-third of a per cent each year to help cover back lane repairs. Council approved that last year.

READ MORE: City council gets first glimpse at Edmonton Capital Budget

There’s always the option to borrow more money for those items, but chief financial officer Todd Burge says the big unknown is: “the west LRT and waiting for support from federal and provincial governments for funding that.

“I think that weighs heavily into the decisions we make around funding any additional projects with debt,” he added.

The province’s reduced MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) funding leaves a hole in the budget of about $61 million a year.

Iveson said he wished cities had received more of a heads-up in terms of the change to MSI, which he described as “legislation that entitled municipalities, by law, to a partnership arrangement” with the province.

“If you’re going to change that partnership arrangement materially, you’ve got to give notice in public, in the legislature, that you’re thinking about doing it,” the mayor said.

“That’s far less political and it’s much more legislative and it’s fair to not only mayors and councillors who need to react to it, but to the public to say: ‘Hey, we thought we all had a deal here.'”

“Edmonton, over the next decade, will have to deal with a growing population and service demands greater than in many Canadian cities, while simultaneously having to grapple with a growing but not high-performing economy,” the budget document reads.

“Added to this mix is that, in the next several years, interest rates are expected to rise to levels closer to historical averages. The city should, therefore, anticipate a medium-term upward trend in interest costs.”

The report also flags to council that future provincial funding is still very much an unknown.

The proposed capital budget will be presented to city council on Oct. 23.

“We believe this budget provides excellent value to Edmonton residents while meeting the commitments we have made to renew and grow our city,” Burge said.

Edmontonians can view the city’s proposed capital budget online.

After the initial presentation to council, a public hearing will be held on Nov. 15, followed by deliberations among council. The final version of the budget is expected to be set by council in late 2018.

Residents and organizations can register to speak at the non-statutory public hearing on Nov. 15 by calling the city clerk at 780-496-8178 or online at edmonton.ca/meetings.

— With files from Emily Mertz

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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