The Pulse: Dec. 19, 2022

This is the final edition of The Pulse for 2022. Taproot will resume publishing on Jan. 3. Happy holidays!

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  • -23°C: A mix of sun and cloud with 60% chance of flurries. Wind up to 15 km/h. Temperature steady near minus 23. Wind chill near minus 31. Risk of frostbite. (forecast)
  • Teal/Yellow: The High Level Bridge will be lit teal and yellow for Shine a Light on Antisemitism. (details)
  • 1,400: Volunteers with the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton delivered 1,400 holiday hampers on Dec. 17. (details)
  • 3-4: The Edmonton Oilers (17-14-1) were defeated by the Anaheim Ducks (9-20-3) on Dec. 17. (details)
  • 6pm: The Oilers meet the Predators (12-13-4) in Nashville on Dec. 19. (details)

Council chambers during the final day of the budget process

'Gruelling' budget process ends with tax increase of 4.96% in 2023

By Mack Male

City council has approved Edmonton's 2023-2026 budgets, which will result in property tax increases of just under 5% in each of the next four years.

The $7.9-billion capital budget passed 9-4, with councillors Tim Cartmell, Sarah Hamilton, Karen Principe, and Jennifer Rice opposed. The operating budget, with expenditures of nearly $3.3 billion in 2023, $3.3 billion in 2024, $3.5 billion in 2025, and $3.6 billion in 2026, passed 8-5, with the same councillors opposed as well as Coun. Andrew Knack.

The resulting tax increases have been set at 4.96% in 2023, 4.96% in 2024, 4.95% in 2025, and 4.39% in 2026. Council will have the opportunity to make budget adjustments every fall, which could alter those numbers slightly.

"My focus during this budget has been affordability, not austerity," Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said in his closing remarks. "All of us have a responsibility to own it. I will support this budget, because I am proud of the collaboration we fostered."

Despite that collaboration, several councillors commented on how difficult the past few weeks have been. "This budget process has been absolutely gruelling and exhausting," said Coun. Michael Janz. "A rollercoaster like no other."

Coun. Jennifer Rice indicated she could not support a tax increase above 4%. "The outcome and the process fell short of what I believe Edmontonians told us they expected of council," she said.

Coun. Keren Tang also used her closing remarks to address the process, suggesting that council was "drowning in information" and might need a different approach. She wondered aloud if there might be a more iterative and responsive budget process used in the future.

City council approved about $223 million in adjustments to the capital budget, including the approval of $100 million for the Edmonton Bike Plan, a decision that will likely remain controversial for years to come. Other big-ticket items included $53 million for deep energy retrofits of City of Edmonton facilities, $35 million for the demolition of the Coliseum, and $34.5 million for a district energy network strategy.

On the operating budget, council asked for a "city-wide, comprehensive corporate review of all programs and services" with a goal of reducing expenses by $60 million over the four-year budget cycle. Additionally, council asked administration to identify "an additional minimum $240 million that city council can transition to its directed priority areas of housing, climate change, public transit, and core services."

Other operating approvals included the $5-million Edmonton Edge Fund, nearly $8 million per year for on-demand transit, nearly $11 million more over the four-year budget cycle for enhanced snow and ice control, a one-time increase of $5 million for Explore Edmonton, $2 million to partially fund the climate adaptation strategy, and $1.5 million for a municipal drug response.

The closest votes were 7-6 in favour of reducing capital funding for the Edmonton Valley Zoo by $24.5 million, and 7-6 in favour of boosting operating funding for animal welfare by about $3.3 million. Motions to increase funding for transit cleaning, decrease funding for a program focused on diversity and inclusion at the City of Edmonton, and increase operating funding for the Fort Edmonton Park expansion were all defeated 6-7.

Council also considered more than two dozen subsequent motions for things arising from the deliberations.

"Will more good be done for the people of Edmonton in this budget than there is to disagree with?" Coun. Aaron Paquette said in his closing remarks. "And the answer is obviously yes, there's no debating that."

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Headlines: Dec. 19, 2022

By Kevin Holowack

  • The city announced a series of changes to service levels and operating hours during the holiday season. Routes on the Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) will follow Sunday hours on Dec. 25 and have altered hours until regular service resumes on Jan. 9. Recreation centres will see some closures on Dec. 26, Dec. 27, and Jan. 2, and the city encourages users to check hours online before visiting. The 311 service line will be suspended on Dec. 25, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1. Curbside collection of natural Christmas trees starts Jan. 9 and lasts until Feb. 10 at the latest, depending on the weather.
  • City council approved a decrease in spending on snow and ice removal, which will likely result in service reductions beginning next winter unless more funding is allocated. Currently, the city is paying for 50% of what it calls "enhanced" clearing levels, but that number was reduced to 20% over the course of budget deliberations. "There will likely be a decrease in service between winter 2022/2023 and winter 2023/2024, but an increase over what residents have experienced in previous years," Craig McKeown of the city's parks and roads department told Postmedia, adding the reduction may prevent staff from completing work such as windrow pickups in school zones and clearing pathways in parks.
  • City council approved various changes to parking rates at city-run EPark stalls in an effort to raise an additional $1.4 million in annual revenue. Starting next year, rates at 92 high-demand EPark stalls will rise from $3.50 per hour to $4.50 per hour, the 30-minute grace period introduced during the pandemic will be reduced to 15 minutes, and some free parking will be cut. "In the last 20 years, transit fares have risen by about 75%, whereas parking fees have not significantly increased over that time," said Ward Métis Coun. Ashley Salvador, who introduced the motion while acknowledging the changes "will probably not be super popular." Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, said on Twitter that parking revenue generated within Business Improvement Areas in the downtown core "should be SPENT inside BIAs to achieve adequate service levels."
  • Real estate developer Maclab Development Group has bought Mill Woods Town Centre and plans to convert vacant parking space into infill rental housing in an effort to "bring more activity and density to the area." According to the company, which plans to conduct public engagement with surrounding neighbourhoods over the next 18 months, the development will not affect businesses already operating in the space. "It's been on my radar that the future of Mill Woods Town Centre has been uncertain for quite some time," said Ward Karhiio Coun. Keren Tang. "I think this development offers a real opportunity for potential economic development, for community building, for growth in this part of the city."
  • Rapper Ntwali Kayijaho released a music video for his song Message to the Youth that features a 1969 Ford Galaxie 500 he borrowed from a stranger. Kayijaho left a note on Adam Kaminski's red convertible while he was parked outside the Sugarbowl restaurant in Old Strathcona. "My daughter thought it was super cool and said, 'You've got to do this,'" Kaminski told CBC.
  • Global News published an in-depth look into Edmonton's opioid epidemic written by journalist Meaghan Archer.
Two cream-filled pastries with chocolate chips on them

Coming up this month and beyond

By Debbi Serafinchon

Taproot is taking a break for the holidays, but we've gathered some events you might want to check out as 2022 winds down. And to aid your long-term planning, we've listed some major events happening in the first quarter of 2023.

Find even more listings in Taproot's holiday agenda.

Looking ahead to 2023

Photo: Cannoli is the final course in a gourmet cooking class put on by Sorrentino's on Dec. 23. (YEG Cooking Classes)