When is $51M not $51M? A preview of an Edmonton city council debate expected Tuesday

A photo taken at an Edmonton City Council meeting on Jan. 22, 2019.
A photo taken at an Edmonton City Council meeting on Jan. 22, 2019. Global News

A balance-sheet dilemma has cropped up ahead of Tuesday’s Edmonton city council meeting.

One of the items councillors will be asked to approve is a spending bylaw worth $51 million for land procurement along the west Valley Line LRT.

But it just so happens that in the federal budget presented last month by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, a one-time-only top-up to gas tax was given to Edmonton.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi was quick to declare on Twitter that it was worth $51 million.

“Is it exactly?” asked a fascinated Councillor Andrew Knack. “How interesting!”

Not so fast.

“It is a coincidence,” read a statement from Mayor Don Iveson’s office sent via text message, adding that the $51 million “is to continue into the procurement phase and provide funding for land.”

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An email comment attributed to Brad Smid, the city’s acting branch manager for LRT expansion and renewal, said the bylaw reading set for Tuesday is for the second and third reading. First reading was on Feb. 26.

READ MORE: Edmonton city council votes in favour of Valley Line West LRT procurement

The $51 million is split with $30.5 million for procurement, while the rest is an adjustment after preliminary design was done. The money was approved in the 2017 fall supplementary capital budget adjustment.

“It’s totally coincidental,” said Councillor Ben Henderson, of the two figures equaling each other. “[The federal government] is paying a major chunk of that project already. We have to put some of that in ourselves.”

Still, that’s not going to stop city councillors from asking questions to see if one can replace the other.

“I think that’s an interesting discussion to have at council,” Councillor Sarah Hamilton said. “That’s a good question to ask administration, if that helps us offset what that borrowing would have been.”

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READ MORE: Government funding confirmed for 2 Edmonton LRT expansions

“Coincidence? Sounds like an odd number to have both, like the exact same funding for it,” added Councillor Tony Caterina.

“That would probably be the easy way to make a decision. We got 51. We need 51. Sounds fairly easy.”

“Can the $51 million essentially not be spent?” Knack asked. “I think we have to have that conversation. So, in a way, that could be part of it, to say, Why not just redirect it to that?’

“So yeah, I think that’s a valid question.”