Bike lanes, transit upgrades approved in Edmonton budget change raising taxes another 1.3 per cent
City council approved a large basket of amendments Friday covering more bus rapid transit, a $100 million bike lane investment and Chinatown infrastructure improvements, which have increased the tax increase by another 1.3 per cent.
Brought forward by Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, the package of capital budget changes opened the first day of the next week of deliberations. Now some councillors are concerned that the city has pushed too close to its debt ceiling.
The motion includes taking action to reduce emissions by retrofitting city-owned buildings ($53 million), funding the land acquisition to pave the way for the Metro Line extension from Blatchford to Campbell Road ($20 million), and another $23 million for affordable housing projects.
Overall, the mayor's 17 amendments add up to $282 million in spending and cuts worth more than $105 million, including cancelling the 100 Street pedestrian bridge.
DIVISION OVER BIKE LANE INVESTMENT
One of the biggest investments passed was the mass bike lane network improvement, to be spent over four years. Sohi said it was needed to help Edmontonians facing an affordability squeeze and the ability to take action on climate change by reducing their vehicle dependency.
"It is also an investment into making people's lives more affordable," he told reporters. "Edmontonians are actually forced to spend a lot on single occupancy vehicles because they don't have any other choices to move around the city."
"All of these amendments are crafted to make life better for current and future generations."
Sohi pointed out that some of that money will not just be for dedicated bike lanes but for shared paths that anyone can use.
The $100 million injection to bike lane projects was opposed by Councillors Tim Cartmell, Sarah Hamilton, Karen Principe and Jennifer Rice.
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Cartmell presented an amendment to Sohi's motion that would see $30 million go towards bike lanes and the remaining $70 million held until the city conducted a complete audit of all projects planned.
"There is the bike plan fund, and then there's all of the things that contribute to a bike plan that are buried in other projects that we do," he explained.
"Do we really know all the things that we are doing right now? I would suggest we don't actually… Should we not tally all that up?"
He pointed to the Terwillegar Drive expansion project, which includes a trail spine of two pedestrian bridges, with one connecting residents south of Anthony Henday with the rest of the city.
"That is often overlooked," Cartmell told councillors. "It is glibly defined as a freeway project when it is absolutely not."
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Coun. Aaron Paquette said as the city is projected to grow to more than 2 million people in the next 30 years, investments in bike lane infrastructure need to happen now.
"Traffic volumes will increase, causing frustration for drivers," Paquette said. "We simply can't build more road lanes to accommodate that to the degree that would be required. There will never be enough money."
"We can get transit working better," he added. "We can provide other outlets and active pathways so that those who choose to leave the car at home can get around, making the commute for car drivers a little less aggravating."
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DEBT ROOM CONCERNS
Representing the north side ward of tastawiyiniwak, Coun. Principe said she heard loud and clear from residents during the last election cycle that bike lanes were low on the priority list.
"There is concern that the city is not living within its means," echoed Coun. Rice, adding that property tax increases aren't popular with many people.
While Cartmell recognizes the city needs to invest in bike lane infrastructure, he questioned the pace of the investment and the impact it would have on the overall bottom line.
The city is limited by provincial legislation on how much money it can borrow. Cartmell added that for every $100 million borrowed, there's approximately $8 million in debt servicing — which accounts to a rough 0.45 per cent property tax increase.
"Right now, as we speak, we have $16 million of debt room left," he said. "If the west LRT has a one per cent increase in this world of everything going up, that's $26 million.
"Where's that going to come from if we have no debt room? That's just one example.
City council will continue to debate further budget amendments over the next week that will impact the property tax increase. As of Friday morning's changes, that adds 1.34 per cent to the already 3.9 per cent increase for four years.
"We have effectively put all of our eggs, right now today, in one basket," Cartmell added. "My apprehension is that we're so close to our credit limit… Because I want to do these other things and I think we skewed too far to the bike plan."
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson
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