After a difficult deliberation process that saw some items scrapped and more approved, Edmonton city council approved the budgets for the next four years and the tax increase will be higher than city administration initially suggested.
The 2023-2026 budget was presented to council last month with an annual property tax rate increases of 3.9 per cent each year.
However after spending the past two weeks approving and rejecting hundreds of items, councillors on Friday voted to approve a budget that comes with tax increases of nearly five per cent each year.
The $7.9-billion 2023-2026 capital budget passed nine-to-four, and the operating budget passed eight-to-five.
The operating budget calls for annual expenditures of $3.24 billion in 2023, $3.3 billion in 2024, $3.4 billion in 2025 and $3.5 billion in 2026.
The overall tax increases are slated to come in at 4.96 per cent in 2023, 4.96 per cent in 2024, 4.95 per cent in 2025 and 4.39 per cent in 2026.
The city said in 2023, Edmonton households can expect to pay about $725 for every $100,000 of assessed home value — an increase of $34 from 2022.
That means for a typical single-family, detached home assessed at $400,000, the property taxes would be about $2,900.
Those numbers can change as budgets are not set in stone, Ward Dene Coun. Aaron Paquette reminded while speaking before voting.
Paquette said there are opportunities to check in and make changes, as was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said there is a chance to re-evaluate in the spring, as “budgets are fluid.”
The proposed tax increase is a huge jump from 2022, where homeowners paid 1.9 per cent. In 2021, they paid nothing due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When coming up with the budget, city administration said it had a goal of maintaining services while also keeping up with inflation. City staff stressed it was a tough budget of needs, not wants.
The city’s budget is broken into four parts: capital, operating and two utility budgets. The capital budget covers major, long-term expenses such as building new facilities and big projects.
Over the next four years, the capital budget will support such previously approved projects as the $2.4 billion for LRT expansion, $518 million for the Yellowhead Trail freeway conversion and $311 million for the Lewis Farms Recreation Centre.
The capital budget also provides newly committed funding for several projects, including:
- $133 million for the rehabilitation of Hawrelak Park
- $100 million to fund the Active Transportation Infrastructure Plan
- $53 million for energy retrofits of City facilities undergoing renewal
- $34.5 million for development of District Energy networks
- $22.9 million for affordable housing land acquisition and site development
- $20 million to acquire land for Metro Line LRT expansion (Blatchford to Castle Downs)
- $11.2 million for planning, design and delivery of emissions neutral fleet and equipment
- $10.1 million for infrastructure improvements in Chinatown
- $7.3 million for ramps at 137 Avenue and Anthony Henday Drive to support the city’s growth
The operating budget is for day-to-day expenses such as maintaining roads, paying employee wages, budgets for Edmonton Fire Rescue Services and the Edmonton Police Service, and running facilities such as rec centres, parks and other city properties.
The city said by 2026, the operating budget will include:
- $18.7 million for affordable housing and homelessness prevention and $6.6 million for the affordable housing grant program
- $16.8 million for transit services, including making On Demand transit service permanent and expanded On Demand transit and transit off peak service
- $11.0 million for enhanced snow and ice control
- $6.5 million for energy transition and $2 million for climate adaptation
- $3.7 million for transit safety
The city’s budget process also includes two utilities budgets for waste services and Blatchford Renewable Energy. The city said these services are operated independently of the tax-levy budget and funded through utility rates on residents’ monthly EPCOR bill.
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Council approved a 0.9 per cent waste services utility rate increase in each of the next two years. In 2023, each month residents will pay 43 cents more for households with curbside collection and 28 cents more for households with communal collection such as at condo buildings.
Council also approved a 10 per cent increase in Blatchford Renewable Energy rates for 2023, meaning a typical resident there will pay an additional $6.17 per month.
The capital budget was opposed by councillors Tim Cartmell, Sarah Hamilton, Karen Principe and Jennifer Rice.
The operating budget was also not approved by the above-mentioned councillors plus Andrew Knack.
Cartmell said he believes in many of the motions approved but doesn’t support a nearly five per cent increase. Rice also said the amount is too high.
Knack expressed disappointment about the council’s decision this week to pull out of the regional transit plan that has been a decade in the making but the three-term councillor acknowledged no council he has been on has worked this hard on a budget.
Hamilton, who is in her second term, said this is the toughest and hardest-worked-on budget she’s seen. She said it’s been gruelling but she came to every item discussed with an open mind.
She said there are good investments but also big misses and limited renewal. Hamilton also addressed the regional transit pullout, saying it has set a dangerous precedent of Edmonton being isolationist.
Principe didn’t support the budget because of all the amendments made: she said none of the motions she put on the table passed and a lot of things approved don’t necessarily meet the needs in her ward tastawiyiniwak in north Edmonton.
The councillors who voted to approve the budget also recognized it was a challenging process.
Coun. Ashley Salvador said she was proud of the budget as many of the items met council’s priorities.
She said to maintain artificially low tax rates will lead to frustrations, and that Edmontonians want value for their dollars. Salvador said council is committed to keeping life affordable by keeping money moving in the city.
Coun. Michael Janz called the budget a roller-coaster with many wins and disappointments.
He said the city is paying for things that are the province’s responsibility (such as supports for the homeless) and is mindful of the Alberta government forecasting a $21 billion surplus.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, who voted in favour of the budget, thanked council for their hard work.
He said the budget includes meaningful steps for housing affordability, climate action, transit and moves to support Chinatown, where the city’s social services are concentrated. The area has seen an uptick in crime in recent years.
“My focus during this budget has been affordability — not austerity,” he said.
Sohi said he is proud of the work council has done to address racism and support action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — something the mayor said benefits the city.
More to come…