EDMONTON – Edmonton homeowners are being asked to pay more, as the City is calling for a 5.5 per cent property tax increase in its preliminary 2014 Operating Budget.
The City’s operating budget sets the revenue and spending levels for all civic services and programs, such as police, fire rescue, parks maintenance and recreation centre staff.
The proposed 5.5 per cent hike works out to be an annual increase of about $106 for the average homeowner. More than half of that increase is due to operating costs for new construction projects.
“This budget is about the benefits new infrastructure, such as the Clareview and Meadows Recreation Centres and the Metro Line to NAIT, bring to the City and the funding required to provide those amenities,” said the City’s Chief Financial Officer Lorna Rosen. “This proposed budget maintains the services, programs and infrastructure that support 836,000 people within our growing city.”
“This is infrastructure expenditure, really, that’s driving this budget,” added Mayor Don Iveson.
1.5 per cent of the increase is dedicated to neighbourhood renewal. The City says it took a lot of work to keep the increase to this level.
“We’re just looking for ways to be more efficient and more productive. But there are no cuts of public services in this budget,” Rosen said.
The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) is asking for 35 new officers in 2014; a number Police Chief Rod Knecht says is a minimum requirement to keep up with the ever-growing city. Edmonton’s population is expected to increase by 2.2 per cent in 2013, which is roughly 52 new people coming to Edmonton each day.
“Could we have used 15 more? Yes, we could have used 15 more this year. But we’ll see what next year looks like and I think we can put forward a really good case. We’ve got a good case this year and I think we could put forward a really good case next year just based on the numbers we’re seeing right across the board,” Knecht explained.
The 5.5 per cent increase is not set in stone. But Iveson says this budget marks a good starting point.
“I think the city manager has done a great job of managing a lot of those costs internally, with efficiencies and with other off-setting revenue.”
Iveson says it will be difficult to find further efficiencies in this budget, as city administration has been working all year on that task. However, he maintains he will work to find efficiencies in future budgets.
“This budget’s really inherited from the previous council’s mandate. So this council’s got to deal with it, but our chance to shape future budgets and drive that two per cent efficiency that I talked about in the campaign, that’s going to come with the budgets in the subsequent years.”
City Council will now deliberate the budget, with final approval expected in mid-December.
With files from Fletcher Kent, Global News.