Edmonton tax hike lower than expected, mayor projects

Edmonton property owners are facing between 2.5-per-cent and 3 per cent increase in their taxes 2019, as city council gets closer to passing the 2019-22 budgets.

Council expected to pass budgets Friday with lower increase than original 3.3 per cent

Edmonton city council debated the 2019-2022 $3 billion operating and $4.3 billion capital budgets for two weeks. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Edmonton property owners are likely to see an increase below 3 per cent in 2019, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson told media after a lengthy budget debate Wednesday. 

City council was veering toward passing the 2019-2022 operating and capital budgets but agreed to resume the debate Friday morning. 

The projected increase is expected to be between 2.5 and 3 per cent — lower than the 3.3 per cent city administration proposed in the original budgets in November.

 Iveson said the increases would be similar in 2020 and 2021 but near 2 per cent by 2022.

"Our intent will be to continue to try to bring that down even before the tax notices are sent out in the spring," he said. 

Council shelved a number of items and asked administration to return back in early spring with new estimates.

One of them was a police request of nearly $5.6 million to deal specifically with cannabis legalization in 2019.

Council will revisit the request while debating the supplementary budget in the spring. 

"If unexpectedly to me there's some new increase in crime and social disorder due to cannabis legalization, we'll have to fund that, and then we'll have to go knocking on Mr. Trudeau's door," said Coun. Scott McKeen.

The budget includes a $75-million boost to policing, the largest part of the city's operating budget, which will go from $362 million in 2019 to $412 million by 2022.

Council agreed to take on $6 million in debt to fund a new helicopter with the assurance that the police themselves will look for other ways to save money and then pay off the borrowed money.

Council dedicated about $12 million to programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under the economic and environmental sustainability branch, the city will working on climate change strategies and transitioning to greener energy. 

Affordable housing

Council, which typically approves money for affordable housing on a year-to-year basis, committed $14 million over four years. 

Iveson called affordable housing a personal issue. He said a childhood friend of his spent 10 years on the streets.

"So I have a face to put on the homelessness."

Iveson said the money will support Edmonton's long-term housing-first strategy to end homelessness.

"The old model used to be, 'Get yourself cleaned up; get a job and then we'll give you housing at the finish line.' It didn't work very well," he said. 

"Housing first is the idea of, 'Let's get a roof over your head and then let's get you stabilized and get you clean and get you the supports you need and help you find a job' and that works so much better."

The city funding will be supplemented by millions from provincial and federal governments.

It's estimated Edmonton needs 5,000 affordable housing units over five years.

@natashariebe

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