Edmonton city hall chalks up $31M surplus in 2017 operating budget

The city has a $31-million surplus in its 2017 operating budget, and savings from snow removal due to lighter snowfall is credited for a large chunk of it, a report released Thursday shows.

Coun. Mike Nickel calls for using the cash to lower this year's property tax rate

A third of the surplus came from lower-than-expected snow and ice removal costs in 2017.

The city's 2017 operating budget has registered a $31-million surplus, with savings on Edmonton snow removal due to a lighter year of snowfall credited for a large chunk of the windfall, a report released Thursday shows.

About $10 million less than budgeted was spent on clearing snow and ice. Snowfall in the first quarter of the year was below average, the financial and corporate services report says. 

The city also saved money in staffing costs due to delayed backfilling, reduced overtime hours and unfilled vacancies. 

EPCOR, a city-owned utility, paid higher dividends to the city after it took over drainage services in 2017. That accounted for nearly $7 million. 

The city saved $4.3 million from lower insurance premiums and claims.

The savings will go into the city's financial stabilization fund, unless directed elsewhere by city council.
Coun. Mike Nickel says the city must start addressing steady tax increases. (CBC)

Coun. Mike Nickel said the extra money should go toward lowering this year's municipal tax rate, pegged now at a 3.2-per-cent increase. 

"I always asked that every year, and I'm going to ask that again," Nickel told CBC News Thursday. 

"We've got to start turning the corner on this constant barrage of taxes and user fees because it's just becoming unaffordable to operate and to live in the city of Edmonton," he said. "That's the message I've heard loud and clear."

Redirecting the $31 million could bring the tax increase down closer to the 2.5 per.cent range. Nickel said it would be worth doing.

"Whatever surplus we have at this point in time, tax relief is at the top of my agenda, simply because we've had — oh my goodness — over a decade and a half of constant tax increases. And what I heard at the doors in the last election is that people have had enough."

In 2016, the city had twice the operating surplus, at $64 million. Snow and ice removal savings contributed $26 million of that.

Tax notices are mailed to property owners at the end of May. The deadline to pay is June 30.

Council is slated to discuss the 2017 year-end financial results at a council meeting March 20.

Financial and corporate services recommends redirecting some of the surplus to several areas, including the bus network redesign, the transportation plan, affordable housing and to address the timing of payments for some city projects.

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