EDMONTON -- Before deciding how to deal with a $212-million budget hole created, in part, by cuts by the provincial government, city council heard from Edmontonians Thursday night.  

The City says a $212-million shortfall over the next three years is mostly the result of the latest provincial budget, as well as smaller-than-expected revenues from things like rec centre and transit fees and police fines.

A report discussed by city council on Thursday outlined the potential impacts and options Edmonton has to make up difference. According to the report, Edmontonians would see consecutive tax increases starting next year if the City didn't take "corrective action:" 4.3 per cent in 2020, 2.9 per cent in 2021 and 2.7 per cent in 2022.

Instead, the report proposed potential cuts and cost savings that would allow the City to maintain its planned 2.6 per cent annual tax increase, ahead of councillors deliberating the budget next week.

Options to save, without raising taxes

The capital side of the city's budget—impacting big projects like rec centres and roads—was hit hardest by Budget 2019's slashing of the carbon-tax funded Alberta Community Transit Fund, as well as previous reductions in municipal infrastructure funding.  According to the report, the city has $183.4 million less to work with over the next three years.

To make it up, the city is looking at projects that can be delayed, cancelled or scaled down, such as planned upgrades to Edmonton's transit system. Other projects that could be impacted are the 118 Avenue traffic circle upgrades, 101 Avenue rehabilitation, Clarke Stadium upgrades, and improvements to Whitemud Drive west of Anthony Henday Drive.

The widening of Terwillegar Drive could still happen, the city says, but it would have be with borrowed—not provincial—dollars.  

City staff say also they have found $31 million in savings or cuts in programs and services. For example, the police force has said it could work with a $7-million smaller budget. The city is also looking at reducing the fire budget, and dollars for private security at transit centres.

The report also brought attention to three large projects on Edmonton's horizon: the Lewis Farms Facility and Park, a $66.2-million emergency operations centre, and Coronation Recreation Centre. Administration recommended the last project be deferred at the end of its next stage, before any capital is spent for construction to start in 2021.

Budget shortfall prompts debate, public feedback

As the city considers its options for savings, Ward 5 Councillor Sarah Hamilton is advocating against cutting services.

"I think it ends up hurting people, I think it makes us look like villains, and I think there's actually a way to get to that economic efficiency that the community is looking for without targeting kids and seniors," she said.

Many speakers who addressed council on Thursday are pushing for taxes to be kept as low as possible so businesses can stay afloat.

'Every little increase compounded on another increase just makes it more and more difficult for us to stay competitive," said Adam Guiney of Antrim Industries.

"Eventually, that straw will break that camel’s back and we’ll either have to shut doors or relocate."

A zero per cent tax would mean millions more in cuts: report

One other scenario was presented to city council: a zero per cent tax increase in 2020.  

Administration was asked to look into the possibility in October.

The report found if the city didn't raise taxes, it would need to find another $44 million in savings. To achieve this, the city could:

  • pause the alley renewal tax levy requirements until 2023, which would save an estimated $6.8 million;
  • reduce services for turf maintenance, tanker and ladder crew services, fire and 311 to glean about $7.2 million; and
  • make changes worth nearly $11 million to the City of Edmonton workforce, including removing vacant positions and merit increases for management.

Discussion will continue on Dec. 11.

With a report from CTV Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson