What was said Friday at Edmonton city council’s budget debate will be ringing in the ears of taxpayers all across Metro. The talk reflects the growing frustration as multi million-dollar attractions are being paid for by city taxpayers only.
On Thursday evening, city council postponed formalizing the construction of the Lewis Farms Rec Centre for one year, because in part, it wants to look into getting financial help from neighboring municipalities to help in some small way with the $292 million price tag. On Friday morning, the same thing happened with a $39 million upgrade to the Valley Zoo.
It prompted Mayor Don Iveson to point out what’s been said for “generations.”
“The taxes should be higher in St. Albert, Strathcona County, Leduc and Beaumont because the free ride is over,” he said emphatically. “If it’s just on the zoo… but ultimately it’s on transit and ultimately it’s on police, and ultimately it’s on roadways, then we’re getting somewhere about the inequity which has driven the discrepancy in taxation in this region.”
Iveson said data can be collected, through attendance at city attractions. Even licence plate surveys in area parking lots. Estimates range from 30 per cent out of town visitors for Telus World of Science, to 10 percent at the Zoo.
“I want to put every single thing that we have that is of benefit beyond the borders of the city of Edmonton with respect to recreation and tourism and the economic benefits that come with them and the social and public health benefits that come with them, I want to put every last piece of that on the table in that conversation over the next year,” he said.
Provincial intervention has become a game changer, compared to when Rogers Place was being planned and former mayor Stephen Mandel attempted to get regional cooperation, but no money from individual municipalities, so Edmonton could tap into a small segment of the Municipal Affairs budget. A handful of regional partners blocked the attempt.
What’s different now is the Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks that were introduced in 2016.
Area mayors decided to handle recreation facilities in one-on-one negotiations; however, transit, roads, and emergency services are being negotiated through the regional board.
“It was actually the mayor of St. Albert who said, ‘You should send us a bill for Fort Edmonton and things like it,'” Iveson said, although the upgrades to that attraction are already accounted for with federal and provincial money.
Councillor Aaron Paquette wants to see this happen, however he’s also skeptical.
“It just occurs to me that if we are in a tight budget, probably surrounding municipalities are as well,” he said.
Councillor Scott McKeen thanked the mayor for raising the issue.
“Being told again and again that from business owners in our community that they could walk across a border with their business and enjoy much lower taxes. There is something wrong with that picture.”
Iveson believes now that this debate is getting media coverage, he’ll hear from the other dozen regional mayors at a meeting next week.