Council tackles the nitty-gritty of the 2023-2026 budgets

· The Pulse

This week, city council gets down to business on the 2023-2026 capital, operating, and utility budgets. A non-statutory public hearing will take place on Monday and Tuesday, and the first budget meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

In addition to hearing from speakers at the public hearing, city council has received dozens of emails and letters about the budget. On Wednesday, council will hear verbal presentations from external organizations and civic agencies — including the Edmonton Public Library, the Edmonton Arts Council, Explore Edmonton, and the Edmonton Police Commission. Council is also expected to receive answers to written questions about the proposed capital, operating, and utility budgets this week.

To start deliberations, the main budget motions will be put on the floor and seconded. City council decided at its meeting on Nov. 14 to follow the "out and back draw" approach for dealing with amendments to the budgets. A draw per budget will determine the order in which councillors make amendments, each of which will be postponed until all amendments have been made. Once ready to vote, council will deal with amendments for budget decreases before voting on amendments to increase the budget. Nine meetings have been scheduled from Nov. 30 to Dec. 16 for deliberations.

A variety of factors could make agreeing on the next four-year budgets challenging. Many city councillors have been running surveys and holding engagement sessions over the past few weeks, and several have now started sharing more about what they've heard and where they see gaps in the proposed budgets.

"We started to see councillors stepping forward and staking their claim this week," noted Speaking Municipally co-host Troy Pavlek in Episode 200. "Perhaps we will be surprised in the upcoming weeks... maybe there will actually be some big swings coming up in this budget."

Several city councillors seated in council chambers at city hall with two staff members seated in front of computer screens

Deliberations about Edmonton's 2023-2026 budgets will take place over the next few weeks. (Mack Male/Flickr)

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he will suggest using the projected $67.8 million surplus for 2022 to invest in affordable housing, climate action, and expanding the city's industrial tax base. Sohi also said that he'll seek approval of $5 million for the proposed Edge Fund to strengthen Edmonton's innovation ecosystem.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton started a series of blog posts about the budget, addressing the recommended 3.9% tax increases each year over the next four years. "While I don't believe Edmontonians are in a position to be able to handle the increases as recommended, I also don't believe it's possible for the city to continue to hold the line at 0% without serious trade-offs and cuts," she wrote.

Coun. Aaron Paquette said he thinks "restoring basic services" should be council's top priority for the budget. "It will be tough to justify as many growth projects as we have seen in previous years," he wrote. "When you walk out the front door, you should see your tax dollars at work."

Coun. Erin Rutherford shared an overview of what she has heard from constituents regarding the budget, organized into themes including quality of life, civic pride, community safety, and more.

Coun. Ashley Salvador said her inbox is "flooded with folks underscoring the urgent need for housing, which is currently unfunded in the proposed budget." She said housing must be a priority that is reflected in the next four-year budgets.

Coun. Keren Tang said she's approaching the budget with community, economy, and climate in mind. She also indicated she'll follow three principles: investing with a longer-term horizon, something in for something out, and being responsive to the concerns in her ward. "If you are apprehensive about this budget, so am I. It is gonna be tough," she wrote.

Meetings are streamed live on YouTube on the Chamber channel and River Valley Room channel.

Hear more about the budget in the Nov. 25 episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast, along with commentary on the beleaguered Valley Line LRT.