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City Council candidates weigh in on Edmonton’s debt

EDMONTON- With the City of Edmonton’s civic election less than 40 days away, several City Council candidates have been busy door-knocking, trying to speak with as many Edmontonians as possible.

As they head out on the campaign trail, the topic of the City’s debt has been a popular one.

“It’s one of the issues that’s come up,” said Ward 11 candidate Harvey Panesar.

“It is a big issue in this ward and I would assume in the rest of the city,” added Ward 5 candidate Michael Oshry.

The City of Edmonton’s debt is expected to reach $2.9 billion by the end of 2014.

Read More: Breaking down the City of Edmonton’s debt

Bev Esslinger, a Ward 2 council candidate who has served as a school trustee for six years, says she feels comfortable with the level of debt the City has taken on.

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“It’s really within a reasonable limit. I think the challenge for the new council moving forward isn’t going to be the debt, as much as the rising cost of building some of the projects they’ve already begun.”

Panesar says while some Edmontonians have asked him where the money is going, taking on debt is sometimes necessary in order for a city or business to grow.

“Having a business background, you always see the ups and downs. What I think we need to do is we need to communicate to people the basis of this debt. They need to understand as a growing city we need to upkeep and expand our infrastructure,” he explained. “We just have to explain to people that this debt that we are creating is almost necessary for the city.”

However, he believes that the new council will have to be careful moving forward.

“I think that we’re going to have to, again, prioritize projects. We’re not going to be able to go out there and be the visionaries, we’re actually going to have to be focusing on the nuts and bolts.”

Since 2007, the City has been taking on debt and building, partially due to low interest rates. Oshry calls it “smart debt.”

“I think the City needs that debt in order to build some of the infrastructure projects and the bigger projects that we’re working on,” he said. “In a business, it’s a similar situation with a line of credit or financing; if it’s manageable and not over-reaching, it helps your business grow. And I think for the city, it’s going to help our city grow.

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“I don’t think it’s going to hinder the city going forward. And without it, I think the city would go backwards.”

Esslinger believes a reasonable amount of debt is an investment in Edmonton, and taking on debt is okay as long as it’s done wisely.

“I think that the City Council to date has been responsible with using debt. And I want to be a part of a council that’s still willing to use every option available and use debt wisely.”

On Thursday, Global News will be speaking with Edmonton’s three mayoral candidates about what they think of the City’s debt.

With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News.