Edmonton

Council cuts property tax increase to 2.1% amid tough budget discussions

Edmonton property owners will pay just shy of 2.1 per cent more in property taxes in 2020, down from the 2.6 per cent council approved last year.

Budget is balance of restraint and growth amid provincial cutbacks, council says

Edmonton city council spent three days debating 2020 operating and 2019-2022 capital budgets. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Edmonton property owners will pay just shy of 2.1 per cent more in property taxes in 2020, down from the 2.6 per cent council approved last year.

After provincial budget cutbacks were announced in October, the city estimated it was facing a 4.3 per cent tax increase next year if it didn't revise its plans.

Over three days, council made several amendments in the fall supplemental budgets as it faced a shortfall of $26 million in operating and $185 million in capital funding over three years from provincial budget cuts. 

Mayor Don Iveson called the budget one of restraint but not austerity. 

"I'm very proud of this work," Iveson said. "That's the biggest reduction swing I've ever seen council do in 13 budgets."

The 2.08 per cent tax increase includes 1 per cent for Edmonton Police Service, 0.8 per cent for LRT expansion and 0.28 per cent for growth in infrastructure and services.

Council agreed to reduce the operating budget by $1.6 million by just eliminating vacant job positions — a far cry from the potential $10 million savings in workforce strategies council could have implemented. 

That would have not only eliminated vacant positions, but imposed forced days off without pay, removed salary increases based on merit and reclassified positions.

"We could have moved into layoffs, we could have put more projects on hold and lost the opportunity to stimulate growth," Iveson said. "While at the same time recognizing it's a time of restraint but we're not going to overcorrect into austerity."

Coun. Michael Walters and Mike Nickel voted against the operating budgets after advocating for no tax increase. 

"You know I don't vote against it angrily, I vote against it as a commitment that I made to try to get to zero and we didn't there," Walters said. "We did take a lot of spending off the table. We found savings here and there so overall it's not a bad spot to be in."

Coun. Ben Henderson, who has worked through 12 budgets at the city, said this was an unusual situation in the light of provincial cuts.

"We've never been handed this kind of hit to our revenue before," Henderson said. 

Councillors said the changes show restraint but recognize that the city is still growing. 

Friday afternoon, council agreed to pause the back alley renewal program to save $6.7 million next year. 

One of the toughest decisions was to put the $321-million Lewis Farms Rec Centre on hold, to lighten the city's debt load.

@natashariebe

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