Budget 2022 Series: The Outlook
As we head into discussions for the City of Edmonton's 2023 - 2026 budget cycle next week — first stop, Public Hearings — I wanted to take this opportunity to connect with constituents and not only share a bit about my thoughts for budget, but also invite you to share yours.
My overarching goal for Ward sipiwiyiniwak — and for the city at large — is to make Edmonton the city of possibilities.
I want constituents to know that they deserve to have a Councillor that represents them and that will fight for them; that they have options about where they live, how they live, what they learn, and how they move around the city.
If someone chooses west Edmonton as their home, I want them to know that they can live whatever kind of life appeals to them, that they feel safe and comfortable here, and that they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I don’t want Edmontonians feeling like they have to move to another city to do the things that they want or need to do.
From a more concrete and tangible perspective, that means residents need to see the value in their communities from their monetary contributions. We need to keep up our end of the bargain and maintain basic municipal core services.
Residents have been telling us, in a myriad of ways, that they have reached their tax tolerance, and while council can talk about how much property taxes factor into the average household expenditure, that doesn’t fundamentally affect the way people are feeling, and a lack of acknowledgement of that feeling will lead to increased resentment between residents and their governors.
Many of the budget items we talk about — and fund — are long term investments; things that Edmontonians won’t see the fruits of for many years, which is both necessary and unsatisfying. But we can’t operate solely in the sphere of the 21st century Big City Vision; we have to live in the everyday, with the small delights that make a place worth living in. And we need to appreciate the different things that bring delight to each resident.
Acknowledging and appreciating these special qualities for each resident also helps make the more audacious moves, which bring that long term vision to life, a bit easier to understand . As an example, I don’t know that we’d have the same level of pushback on something like our naturalization program if we were adequately maintaining our sports fields and mowed boulevards, or if there would be the same resistance to multi-use paths and bike infrastructure if road users felt their needs were being attended to. It’s important to me to bring people along as we grow and that usually means providing validation for the real and existing needs in the community.
Heading into the four year budget, I’d like to see Council get to a place where we are matching resident expectations by funding core services, which many residents feel are a necessary and important part of governing. We need a balance between the city we ultimately want to build and making sure it's a place that we’re proud to live in along the way.
And, to be clear, this is not something that I fault this particular Council for. I’ve seen successive Councils struggle with this question — how much growth do you invest in versus ensuring that there is adequate renewal and maintenance of existing services?. I am concerned a lot of Edmontonians are getting tired of being told that they don’t know what they want, when in fact it has never been clearer.
I will be focusing on questions around services this budget cycle — how does this relate back to the value residents see? How will this increase their quality of life? Knowing Edmontonians are facing increased pressure on cost of living, it’s not just about the 20 year outlook; sometimes it's also about the next four, and we have a good opportunity to get this right.
I’ve long held that Edmonton is one of the best kept secrets in Canada. The quality of life and opportunity offered here is unparalleled in Canada, and arguably across North America. So, part of this conversation is reminding ourselves why people choose Edmonton as their home. Sometimes they move out of necessity, or opportunity, but they’re more likely to stay and contribute to a community if they feel a sense of care, value and utility in their everyday lives.
THE MYTH OF ZERO
There’s been a lot of concerns raised over the recommended budget and the increases that come along with that. 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.
I know everyone is experiencing the impact of inflation, whether it’s home and heating bills, increasing interest rates, or climbing grocery bills (or all three), and I’m right there along with you. Unfortunately, so is the City; basic operations cost more and it’s no different for a large organization.
The Capital Budget allows us to be more flexible and creative with our funding sources, to leverage partner funding and seek opportunities with other orders of government or with NGOs and the private sector. But with the operations budget — the items that really impact your lives daily, like snow clearing and turf maintenance — we are legislatively bound to not run a deficit. That means that unlike other order of government, our budget needs to balance each and every year, and our mechanisms to raise revenues are limited to things like service fees, property taxes, and shareholder dividends.
For the past three years, City Administration and Council has been particularly mindful of the financial struggles of Edmontonians and we have made cuts and decisions to keep property tax increases as low as possible — 1.3%, 0%, and 1.91%, respectively. A deferment, essentially, but not one that can be sustained long-term without consequences to the organization. It might be that residents are okay with that choice, but we must be clear about what those consequences will be to allow for informed engagement and decision making. For context, in the recent past when we’ve circulated either revenue opportunities or exiting services, those recommendations were rejected by both Council and the public.
This is the first post in a series and I’ll have more to say about some of the specific budget asks and what that might mean for you, but I also want to invite Ward sipiwiniwak residents to share questions and concerns with me about the budget, either below in the comments, via social media, or connecting with my office at email@example.com. I will address as many questions as I can through video posts that will be shared through social media channels and my website.
As always, your time is appreciated and I look forward to engaging with you.