On the agenda: Taxes, screen industry, and civic spending

· The Pulse

This week, audit committee will meet on Feb. 13 and executive committee will meet on Feb. 15. Here are some of the key items on the agenda:

  • Administration asserts there are "limited tools available" to make the property tax system more progressive, and says most approaches "are inadvisable given legislative limitations." As of 2022, there were about 4,800 residential properties valued at $1 million or more, which, if taxed at a 10% higher rate, would reduce taxes for properties below the threshold by 0.3%. A separate report on residential tax subclasses suggests phasing out the "Other Residential" subclass — which consists mainly of multi-unit rental properties — would reduce taxes for those properties by 11.7% and increase taxes for other residential properties by 1.6%. Such a change would support the City Plan's focus on higher density, administration said.
  • The Edmonton Screen Industries Office is seeking permission to use a $4-million fund to build capacity in the creative industries rather than investing in productions with the expectation of financial returns. The goal is to "make an industry that then makes money," Tom Viinikka, CEO of the ESIO, told Taproot.
  • Administration has provided a breakdown of spending by department, along with population growth and inflation, for the period of 2012 to 2022. The report indicates that "generally civic department expenditure budgets have grown on pace with population and inflation" with the largest increases resulting from expenses related to expanded capital spending such as debt servicing and dedicated levies for neighbourhood renewal and LRT expansion.
A bar chart showing the change in civic department spending, population, and inflation from 2012 through 2021

Administration says civic department spending has grown "on pace" with population and inflation over the past decade. (City of Edmonton)

Here are some of the other new agenda items:

  • There are 77 properties located in lands annexed by the city from Leduc County in 2019 that would qualify for a reduction in taxes based on previous council direction. If approved, 52 of those 77 properties would receive a tax rebate for 2022, which would cost the city $10,610.17.
  • A jurisdictional scan of property tax assistance programs for seniors found at least 15 deferral programs and at least 16 cancellation programs across Canada. Edmonton's previous rebate program for low-income seniors was discontinued in 2014 when the Alberta Seniors Property Tax Deferral program was introduced. Administration said the provincial program is "the most reasonable and administratively efficient."
  • An annual report on uncollectible taxes and penalties recommends a total write-off of $117,760.25 based on 74 inactive accounts. Most of those are related to companies that have gone out of business.
  • Administration is recommending amendments to Policy C592 - Industrial Infrastructure Cost Sharing Program to boost the cost recovery from tax uplift from 50% to 100%. It says that "taking on the additional risk of increased deferred tax revenue is based on the anticipation the incentive will spur additional investment, providing more tax revenue over the long term." The recommendation is the result of a request from the developer of the Fulton Creek Business Park for an exception to the current policy. Since the program was established in 2017, six industrial projects have proceeded.
  • Since the city auditor's last report, administration has implemented three recommendations and has 20 recommendations not yet due. One other recommendation, to fully implement the disaster recovery program as part of the IT disaster recovery planning project, is now 13 months overdue. Administration said the project is on track to be implemented by June 30.
  • The latest corporate strategic risk profile identifies 17 strategic risks across three themes: economic prosperity and financial constraints; changing political landscapes; and employee retention, experience, and health.
  • The Enterprise Performance Management audit found that the framework "is well-designed and aligned with good practices," though the city auditor made four recommendations related to evaluation and reporting. Administration accepted all four and said the recommendations will be implemented between Sept. 30, 2023, and March 31, 2024.
  • An audit of council and committee reports found that administration sent an average of 652 reports per year from 2018 to 2022. A sample of reports could have been clearer and more concise, the city auditor said, and contained information that could not be validated. The city auditor recommends that administration strengthen report-writing instructions and set clear writing standards for reports.

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