Edmonton earmarks $12M for COVID-19 projects this year

Edmonton will spend $12 million this year into COVID-19 specific initiatives to help the city cope with and move past the pandemic, city council agreed Wednesday. 

City waives business improvement area levy, invests in UV air purification for transit

Old Strathcona is one of 13 business improvement areas in Edmonton that collects a levy from members and uses the money for marketing and enhancements. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Edmonton will spend $12 million this year on COVID-specific initiatives to help the city cope with the pandemic, city council agreed Wednesday.

The funding includes tax relief for businesses in 13 areas of the city and $1.3 million to support vaccination operations at the EXPO Centre. 

It includes nearly $6 million to install ultraviolet air-purification technology in Edmonton Transit vehicles. 

Coun. Ben Henderson said the UV system, believed to combat airborne and surface viruses, has benefits beyond COVID-19.

"In the future, even if we don't have COVID — for flus, for colds, for all those kinds of things — it would be effective in making transit that much healthier for folks," Henderson said. 

City manager Andre Corbould suggested the technology is a way to help attract riders back by showing that the city is improving the cleanliness of the system. 

Eddie Robar, manager of fleet and facility services, said Edmonton is looking at other jurisdictions that are employing the UV technology and then assessing which vehicles would be the best fit for the system. 

'Come back strong'

Council agreed to subsidize 100 per cent of the 2021 tax levy that some 4,000 companies in 13 business improvement areas (BIAs).

It will cost the city $3.4 million to waive the full fee, up from $1.7 million city managers were proposing to waive half the fee.

Each business improvement area decides how to invest the money in marketing campaigns and improvement projects, which could include streetscaping, dining weeks, holiday campaigns or supporting festivals.

Businesses pay different amounts, in part depending on their size and assessed property value. 

Mayor Don Iveson said waiving the levy is meant to help independent retailers and hospitality establishments during the pandemic. 

"Hopefully it's a gesture from city hall to say to the mom and pop shops on our beautiful walking streets in Edmonton, we want to see you come back strong after the third wave here."

Cherie Klassen, chair of the Edmonton BIA council and executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, said the move shows that city council supports these districts. 

"We're just really happy that we are seeing some clear indication from the City of Edmonton that they value the economic impact that main streets provide," she said. "It's recognizing what our businesses contribute to the city and its local economy." 

Coun. Tony Caterina, whose Ward 7 includes three BIAs — Alberta Avenue, Beverly and Fort Road — said it's the right thing to do as many businesses have struggled through the pandemic.

Coun. Bev Esslinger agreed that BIAs add value to streets and neighbourhoods.

"They truly have been good partners," Esslinger said. "I think this sends a strong signal that we really want to support local business." 

Since the start of the pandemic, the city has used $170.5 million from available funds for COVID-19 purposes. 

That included $16 million to help operate the EXPO and Edmonton Convention Centre as emergency shelters, $8 million to waive business license fees, $27 million in economic recovery grants and $68 million to suspend transit fares and maintain bus and LRT service last spring and summer.