New city council members support downtown vibrancy strategy

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman
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Edmonton's new city council members are on record supporting the downtown vibrancy strategy, increasing resources for homegrown economic diversification initiatives, and maintaining current spending levels on pandemic aid for businesses.

In responses to Taproot's pre-election survey of key municipal issues, mayor-elect Amarjeet Sohi and 11 of the 12 successful councillor candidates provided insights into where the new leadership at City Hall stands on business-related concerns. Karen Principe did not answer the Taproot survey.

Sohi and councillors Aaron Paquette, Anne Stevenson, Michael Janz, and Tim Cartmell supported the downtown strategy and favoured fully funding the plan. Another five council members — Keren Tang, Ashley Salvador, Andrew Knack, Sarah Hamilton, and Jo-Anne Wright – also backed the plan at the current level of investment. New councillors Erin Rutherford and Jennifer Rice supported investment in downtown, but not the plan approved by council in June.

Only two winning candidates – Cartmell and Hamilton – said the city's current approach to encouraging economic diversification is heading in the right direction. Nine council members said the city should put more resources behind nurturing homegrown businesses.

There seems little support for increased city spending to help local businesses recover from the pandemic, an option chosen by only Paquette and Stevenson.

Edmonton companies should also not expect the new council to ease their tax burden by shifting more of the load onto the residential sector. Only Cartmell and Hamilton want residential property owners to pay higher taxes while nine other council members who answered the question supported the current split between residential and business taxes.

Taproot surveyed municipal election candidates

Taproot surveyed city council candidates on key municipal issues. Taproot

The new council is also unlikely to favour cutting costs by laying off city staff. While Cartmell said the city has too many employees and Rutherford said it has too few, eight council members think the city has about the right number of people on the payroll.

A key financial area where the new council seems divided is on identifying the main fiscal challenge facing the city. The main issue for Paquette, Tang, Salvador, Janz, and Wright is the city's limited ability to raise revenues. An equal number of council members said the city spends its resources inefficiently, an opinion supported by Sohi, Rutherford, Rice, Cartmell, and Hamilton. None of the survey respondents expressed concerns about the city's willingness to raise taxes or that the city spends too much.

The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce said top priorities for the business community included an inclusive economic recovery, support for downtown vibrancy, and more help to address housing, homelessness, and addictions. The chamber is also looking to council to resolve permitting delays and control municipal spending. "It is important at this stage of the recovery that municipal spending does not rise dramatically and add to the burdens of struggling businesses," the organization said in a news release.

During the campaign, Sohi said he opposed a tax freeze or cut, instead promising to keep increases below the rate of inflation to avoid what he called the long-term damage caused by austerity budgets in the 1990s. "That led to deteriorating infrastructure, that led to reduction in programs and services, and we've struggled to recover from those deep budget cuts," he told CTV News Edmonton.