Edmonton councillors approve 4.9% tax increase

City councillors unanimously passed the 2014 budget, the first under new mayor Don Iveson
Edmonton Don Iveson discusses the 2014 city budget which was passed by council late Thursday afternoon. (CBC )

Edmonton city councillors unanimously passed a budget with a 4.92 per cent tax hike on Thursday, the first under new mayor Don Iveson. 

“I think council showed some considerable restraint with this budget," Iveson said afterwards. "We were able to fund some important small items, but more importantly, stay committed to the big items that really count for Edmontonians.”

Council grappled with ways to reduce the 5.5 per cent tax increase proposed by administration in the draft budget. The biggest chunk was a $5.5 million reduction to the corporate expenditure budget proposed by Iveson.  

The tax increase means the owner of a $364,000 home would pay an additional $95 in taxes. 

Councillors spent the morning going through 15 motions attached to the budget.

They approved $275,000 to revive the Green Shack program jeopardized when the province ended the Summer Temporary Employment Program, a $7.4-million program that funded 3,000 student jobs.

Neighbourhoods where the Green Shack is a big draw will see the full-day playground program continue next summer, while others with lower participation will continue with half day programs.

Coun. Dave Loken called it an important program, saying we "need to do this for our kids."

Council also approved $913,000 to improve off-peak hour service to some transit routes. Funding was provided to pay for 28 new police officers, including the eight needed for prisoner escorts to the new remand centre. 

More lifeguards will be added to meet new safety standards City funding will allow the Edmonton Public Library to continue offering free library cards in 2014. 

About 2.8 per cent or $31.7 million of the property tax increase will cover the operating costs of the new Lewis Farms fire station, three new libraries, two new recreation centres and the LRT extension to NAIT. 

The CBC's Matthew Kupfer live-tweeted the budget debate. You can read the recap here. 

With files from CBC's Lydia Neufeld

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