Edmonton's 2019 budget calls for 3.3 per cent property tax hike

Homeowners in Edmonton are facing a 3.3 per cent increase in property tax next year. On Thursday, the City of Edmonton released its operating budget for 2019 to 2022 with the recommended increase in the first year of the four-year budget.

Owner of typical home would pay $79 more in property tax next year

Edmonton city council will debate both capital and operating budgets at a public hearing Nov. 15. (CBC)

Home owners in Edmonton are facing a 3.3 per cent increase in property tax next year.

The City of Edmonton released its proposed four-year operating budget Thursday, with nearly $3 billion recommended spending in the first year of the four-year plan.

If council approves a 3.3 per cent property tax hike for 2019, the owner of a typical Edmonton home with an assessed value of $397,000 would pay $2,540 — $79 more than in 2018.

The budget also proposes to increase fees for some city services, including admissions to recreational facilities.

Mayor Don Iveson said he'd like to see the increase be below 3 per cent.

"I think we can bring 2019 down a little bit and make sure that we give ourselves some room to be able to continue to invest in the things that Edmontonians are asking us for."

He said the city is keeping up with roadway improvements, recreation facilities, maintaining services.
Don Iveson said he wants to drop the proposed tax increase below three per cent. (CBC)

Council can choose to reduce spending in a few areas. 

A program and service review approved in 2015 but not yet complete, has so far identified potential savings of $10 million for council's consideration. It looked at three of the city's aging recreation facilities and suggests Eastglen Leisure Centre, Scona Pool and Oliver Pool and Arena could be repurposed, closed or refurbished.

Lowering the proposed 3.3 per cent will likely not happen if council chooses to move forward with certain capital projects, which can be funded with debt, including upgrades to Terwillegar Drive, the Lewis Farms Recreation Centre and Library, and Stadium LRT station upgrades. 

"That's why this takes weeks rather than minutes to decide because they're tough decisions," Iveson said. 

The proposed tax hike is not a surprise to city councillors, who were given a heads-up that it was needed for several programs, including alley renewal, increased policing costs, and the Valley Line LRT.

Coun. Michael Walters plans to scrutinize the city's staffing levels.

"I'm going to be hard pressed to support any staff increases at all until that program and service review is done," Walters told reporters.

"In fact, my goal is to come in under three [per cent], so it's going to be a tough set of conversations for sure."

He's also waiting to hear a report on potential costs the provincial and federal governments could be shouldering instead of the city.

"It feels to me that our  ...  answer to every question is one more staff person and we have to really start addressing that. I think the sacred cow is probably our FTE count and we have to begin to figure that out."

Iveson said another potential area for savings or revenues is from cannabis. Of the 3.3 per cent tax increase, 1.7 of that, about $5.7 million is going toward new policing costs to cover annexation of parts of Leduc, and cannabis. 

"Right now, that's on property taxpayers, and that's $5 million right there which I'll be looking to reduce," he said. 

The Alberta government still hasn't offered a revenue sharing deal on cannabis sales with municipalities but Iveson said judging from the demand over the past two weeks, the province will be making money from legal marijuana.

"Apparently they're sold out and line ups are still around the corner, so I think the revenue situation is going to be better than what people were predicted, again if we can find a way to share some of that."

The operating budget is in addition to the city's proposed capital budget, released two weeks ago.

Council will discuss the operating budget at a city hall meeting Tuesday and hold a public hearing on both on Nov. 15.

@natashariebe