Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct amount of money EPS is seeking from the next budget cycle.
Ten community organizations stressed to Edmonton city council why they should get more money at 2023-2026 budget talks Thursday at city hall.
The groups included Explore Edmonton, Fort Edmonton Park and Edmonton Arts Council and the asks range from $1 million to tens of million dollars.
With a proposed tax hikes of 3.9 per cent every year for the next four years, ward Anirniq coun. Erin Rutherford said it’s a daunting task.
“We are dealing with a finite budget right now and even looking at our own funding, we are going to struggle to fund everything we want to,” Rutherford said.
About two per cent of the tax increase will go to maintaining existing services.
Rutherford said this tough budget was one of the reasons she felt compelled to run.
“I could foresee how difficult this was going to be, and I was really concerned about austerity measures, cuts that really hurt people and the services that they need.”
“I really want to find a way forward that balances maintaining services and not cutting those services, while keeping taxes as low as possible.”
The operating budget covers day-to-day expenses such as maintaining roads, pathways and public transit, staff wages, budgets for Edmonton Fire Rescue Services and the Edmonton Police Service, and operating facilities such as rec centres, parks and other city properties.
The city said the proposed operating budget balances the needs and wants of Edmontonians within the current economic uncertainty, high inflation, rising costs, reduced revenues and pandemic recovery.
It calls for annual revenues and expenditures to range from $3.2 billion in 2023 to $3.5 billion in 2026.
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi was on council from 2007 to 2015 (before leaving municipal politics to become a federal MP) and said this budget is tight.
“This budget is the toughest budget I have ever seen.”
The community groups made their case Thursday and on Friday, the police commission will be presenting.
Police are asking for $99 million over four years for their capital budget for health streets operation centre, among other things.
This is separate from its operating budget of $418 million, already approved for 2023.
The mayor said the police budget has never been decreased — it has always gone up.
“When I look back from 2010 to 2022, the police budget has gone up 60 per cent,” Sohi said.
“Our police is well resourced, they are the best-funded police service in all of Canada.”
Sohi said police officers go beyond their duty to serve Edmontonians, and do an excellent job in protecting the city’s communities.
“We have to make sure they are continued to be supported, but at the same time we have other services that need to be funded — from public transit to fire rescue, community services to housing, and attacking climate change,” Sohi said.
“There are a lot of pressures we have to balance out.”
After the police commission presentation, budget deliberations will begin.
Councillors will make motions to fund the requests, or make cuts. Budget deliberations are scheduled to go until Dec. 16.
— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News