Edmonton council holds ‘pivotal special city council meeting’ about budget and funding

Will the City of Edmonton take on more debt? And if it does, how much? That's the key question going into this fall's budget deliberations at city hall. Global News

Members of Edmonton City Council had to rush to city hall Friday morning for an unscheduled meeting to solidify funding priorities and what it wants from the Alberta government.

The meeting was held in private, but opening comments from Mayor Don Iveson provided a hint at what the focus was.

“… For an unexpected but urgent and pivotal special city council meeting,” he said.

READ MORE: Edmonton’s 4-year budget described as ‘tight’ as council begins deliberations

Iveson said the special meeting was called “for purposes of dealing with an inter-governmental update, relative to revenue sharing and the city charter regulation update.”

He then explained the technical reasons for holding the meeting in private, with a couple of cryptic editorial comments thrown in.

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“Section 21 — disclosure harmful to intergovernmental relations, obviously. Section 24 — advice from officials. We could use some.”

Iveson has been vocal for the last few weeks, worried that the province’s funding for capital and construction projects — known as the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) — runs out in 2022, with no conclusion in negotiations for a new program to replace it.

That first year without funding coincides with the fourth year of the city’s capital budget and Iveson has said it will leave a hole in Edmonton’s plans worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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The city wants to finalize where it stands because the fall sitting at the Alberta Legislature is coming to a close quickly as well – likely the first week of December.

“I think the government accepts that,” Iveson said after the council meeting. “I feel like they’ve heard that that’s a real issue — not just for Edmonton but for every municipality in the province — and I believe they’re giving it due attention to try to resolve it.”

WATCH: Public hearing for Edmonton’s proposed four-year operating budget

Edmonton is about three weeks away from finalizing its four-year, $16-billion budget but needs confirmation there will be something from the province in that fourth year. Iveson said it was wise to have a discussion before city budget talks next week.

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“It was timely for us to get together and given how busy next week is with the budget.

“The more we know about where we’re going to stand, the easier it will be for us to respond to our public’s questions about which infrastructure projects are we going to be pursuing over the next four to 10 years.”

READ MORE: Edmonton city council has no appetite to reverse added borrowing recommendation

It’s also expected the province might introduce legislation very soon to come up with new capital and construction money for cities for 2022.

“I think the principle is accepted all around. That’s what the government announced back in the budget that they intended to legislate this fall,” Iveson said.

“So I feel like we’re getting very close and, you know, stay tuned for more news next week.”

Several councillors had to phone in to Friday’s meeting to participate, including Bev Esslinger, Sarah Hamilton, Andrew Knack and Michael Walters.

City Manager Linda Cochrane was also on the phone participating from out of town in what was supposed to a week away from city hall, before budget deliberations resume next week.

Only eight members were able to attend the meeting in person — enough for quorum.

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City council has another in-private meeting to be updated on the proposed funding agreement with the province set to take place Monday afternoon, once a zoning bylaw public hearing wraps up.

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City council’s main discussions on both the four-year operating and capital budgets resume Nov. 29.

Nine days of deliberations are scheduled to run through Dec. 14.

With files from Global’s Emily Mertz


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