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Economy

Sober second thoughts on spending coming to Edmonton city council meeting Tuesday

Edmonton City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019.
Edmonton City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

When Edmonton city council gathers on Tuesday, its members will begin rethinking some previous spending decisions that were made a year ago during year one of the current four-year budget.

A total of 15 bylaws are on the agenda, all of them meant to trigger capital spending.

Some have already been talked about being dropped following the recent provincial budget decision to cancel the Alberta Community Transit Fund, which was going to pay for expressway bus lanes on Terwillegar Dr., the Stadium LRT Station safety upgrades, and electric buses.

READ MORE: Edmonton city council approves bylaws that trigger millions in construction projects

Another major project on the line is the Lewis Farms Rec Centre and Library which is supposed to begin construction in 2021.

“When the provincial government makes the changes that they do you have to also be willing to react to the reality of the situation,” said Councillor Andrew Knack.

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“We do not have all of the same money that (we) had expected.”

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READ MORE: Edmonton City Council puts Lewis Farms rec centre in funding queue but won’t confirm until next fall

“While the Lewis Farms Rec Centre wasn’t dependent on provincial funding, if you see reduction in other infrastructure areas we have to prioritize all of the various projects. Where this one falls, I think is something council will have to decide.”

The price tag for the centre is $321 million, which makes Knack acknowledge it might get put on the back burner.

“We understand now that it’s a different world,” Knack told Global News.

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“That budget really meant that we had to go and re-evaluate everything that we’re doing. All of the projects. And it shouldn’t be just this one. We had to re-evaluate this against all of the other priorities.”

READ MORE: Plan in the works to save Edmonton’s Harbin Gate

Also up for discussion will be downtown projects that come from the Community Revitalization Levy, like the Central Park, and streetscape improvements along Jasper Avenue in the area of the Edmonton Convention Centre. There is also a proposal for roadwork to be done along Whitemud Drive at the Quesnell Bridge.

“I’m not arguing that these are good things, but you just have to say, just not now,” said Councillor Mike Nickel, who wants council to hold the line on spending.

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“I hope they’re going to give some sober second thought.

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“You can already see the posturing. Councillors that were happy to raise taxes a year ago are now saying taxes are problem. So maybe they’re having an epiphany given that we’re two years out in front of an election.”

READ MORE: Calgary, Edmonton LRT projects could be cancelled with 90 days’ notice, changed by minister

“Yeah, for a lot of folks on council there will probably be some sober second thought,” agreed Councillor Aaron Paquette. “I know that I’ve been advocating for a little more fiscal restraint.”

Also on the agenda is an item for a Priority Based Budget Approach. That will be a backdrop for Councillor Michael Walters to push for a zero percent tax increase. “We have a pretty aggressive and ambitious capital plan but raising taxes can’t be our only strategy to doing stuff in this city,” Walters said.

Walters signalled at last council meeting he wants city staff to provide council with some options on what should be cut to keep tax increases at zero.

READ MORE: Edmonton budget submission to province documents cost savings through supportive housing

Councillor Scott McKeen hopes they don’t completely turn off the taps. “What I worry about is, everyone could run around saying, ‘the sky is falling, the sky is falling’, so recession becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if every order of government throttles back too much at this time. It’ll just put more people out of work.”

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McKeen told Global News he wants to hear the economics behind the question of spending.

“Those infrastructure projects, we get to borrow low. We get to employ people — probably at rates that aren’t super high because construction is not super busy. So this is the debate. Do you throttle back, or do you invest to stimulate the economy to get really good bang for your buck.”

Other borrowing bylaws on Tuesday’s list are safe because they are for neighborhood renewal programs, where the money has already been pooled through increased property taxes over the past 10 years.