Edmonton

Labour and business leaders challenge City of Edmonton's value for taxes

Labour and business leaders in Edmonton are questioning the city’s spending choices and their value for taxpayers. 

Coun. Mike Nickel organizes roundtable to tackle consistent tax hikes

Business and union leaders joined a unique roundtable to share ideas on getting better value for tax dollars. (Codie McLachlan/CBC)

Labour and business leaders in Edmonton are questioning the city's spending choices and their value for taxpayers. 

Union leaders joined CEOs from big business and small entrepreneurs Thursday at the start of a two-day roundtable at the Chateau Louis Hotel to discuss common concerns with the City of Edmonton. 

Lanny Chudyk, president of Civic Service Union 52, echoed the frustration heard from the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce and business community for several years. 

"We agree with business — we cannot continue moving forward with three or four per cent tax increases year after year after year," Chudyk said.

Cost overruns, inefficiencies, heavy middle and upper management are a few areas of contention.

"My membership is angry, they're upset," Chudyk said. "They're — I'd say — disgusted by how the city is managed and run." 

Ward 11 Coun. Mike Nickel organized the roundtable, dubbed "Co-creation leads to Unification," in part to dispel the perception that labour and business are ideologically divided. 

He said the city is not on a sustainable financial path.
Coun. Mike Nickel invited business and union leaders to discuss ways to create a more efficient and financially sustainable city. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"At the end of the day it's just about value for your taxes," Nickel said. "Nobody likes wasted money — the unions don't 'cause they're taxpayers, business doesn't 'cause they're taxpayers."

Nickel called it a question of productivity, and said consulting people on the ground is a step the city is missing.

"The first rule, when you're running a business, is go talk to your employees," Nickel said. "Go talk to people who are actually doing the work — they may actually have some good ideas on how to make things better." 

Last year, council approved a 2.6-per-cent property tax increase, with some of it going toward the Valley Line LRT, converting Terwillegar Drive into an expressway and developing Blatchford on the former municipal airport lands.

Nickel has consistently voted against tax increases and funding for the future Valley Line West LRT. 

Amanda Nielsen, co-owner of a small dental office in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood, said businesses play a huge role in driving growth and creating jobs.

"This is exactly the kind of conversation I've been jazzed to have for a while," Nielsen said. "I think what we're doing here today is really groundbreaking and historical and has the opportunity to really change the course." 

She said when she and her husband started the Norwood Dental Clinic a year and a half ago, it was tough to make ends meet at first and the tax burden didn't help.

"We didn't make payroll for the first four months and we were eating into our line of credit," she said, noting that the clinic benefits from a team of employees who contribute ideas to the operation. 
Amanda Nielsen, an entrepreneur in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood, said labour and businesses are important for the city's economy. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Nielsen questioned money spent on projects such as redeveloping Stony Plain Road, when in a few years many buildings along the future Valley Line West LRT route will be torn down.

"I don't know anyone who is going to go home and say, 'What a great use of my tax dollars.'"

Chudyk questioned the millions spent on projects like the design and route of the future Valley Line West LRT, bike lanes and the funicular.

"We need leadership at the council level that responds to the taxpayer and aren't pie in the sky dreams," he suggested. "Things like the gondola should be built by private industry if there's a willingness to do it."

He also pointed to $600 million paid in consulting fees, revealed in an audit earlier this year.

"Almost every single minor engineering project is reviewed by an outside firm," Chudyk noted. "If our engineers aren't capable of even designing a sidewalk, then why do we have them?"

Nickel, who's renting the conference room at the Chateau Louis with his own money, believes the roundtable is the first of its kind in Edmonton.

He's hoping to hold more and with future roundtables, have more concrete recommendations emerge from the business and labour communities to pass along to the city.

@natashariebe

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