After five days of discussion over sixty-plus amendments, this year’s City Council budget debate could be characterized as a difficult, yet productive journey.
When we began these discussions last Friday, there were $58 million in unfunded initiatives and a 4.9% proposed property tax increase before Council. At the same time, we’d heard loud and clear about the financial stress many Edmonton households and businesses were under. Something had to give.
I believe the budget passed unanimously by Council yesterday addresses the call for restraint in the most reasonable way possible.
By supporting my motion to fund the neighbourhood renewal program through grants and savings, Council showed it was willing to be creative about where we could find large-scale savings and deliver the relief Edmontonians were looking for. Through this single motion, Council was able to shave 1.5% off the proposed tax increase for the next two years.
In addition, I believe we have changed the conversation, for the better, about how we fund policing in our city.
The new formula-based approach that I proposed – which was unanimously supported by Council – will give EPS the certainty they need to plan for the long-term, instead of coming back to Council each year to state their case for new funding. This new approach will see police receive an additional $3 million more in funding next year, and predictable growth in future years that is tied to inflation and population growth.
EPS and Council are also fully aligned on the need for more provincial support for policing, more prevention measures and changes like court reforms that will let our officers spend their time, training and energy responding to crime.
In many ways, this budget was about drawing a line in the sand over what is Edmonton’s responsibility – and what should be uploaded back to other orders of government.
We took small steps forward on overlapping programs like a low income transit pass – but we also sent a clear signal that these will not happen without significant provincial support. We also showed the discipline to avoid taking on more than we should when it comes to areas of provincial and federal responsibility, like housing.
Council also demonstrated restraint by staying within the $10 million made available to it each year through efficiency and innovation efforts within administration. While the temptation may have been there to fund more programs and initiatives, we all recognized that now was not the time to do so. By staying within our means, we didn’t have to raise taxes further and yet we were able to still fund things like gender-based violence prevention, improved maintenance of our sports fields and the early stages of our energy transition strategy.
WIthin the 3.4% increase we ended up with the fundamental building blocks of well-considered budget in place: 2.6% to keep pace with the demands of a busy city (primarily in labour and operating commitments), and 0.8% to begin paying for the long-awaited Valley Line LRT to the southeast. We also began the important process of looking more deeply at our cost drivers through a review of staff overtime and a wholesale review of city services – all in the name of finding long-term efficiency, effectiveness and alignment with our core priorities as a Council.
Make no mistake, however. The effort to find efficiencies and the push for greater efficacy in our operations doesn’t end with this budget, but remains core to the ongoing work of this Council.