What does Alberta’s Budget 2015 mean for Edmonton?

Today was budget day in Alberta. Budget 2015 is being called “a bad news budget” but it could have been much worse. There are tax and user fee increases, cuts to spending (including the first cut to health spending in 20 years), and a new “Health Care Contribution Levy”, and still Alberta’s deficit will grow, to a record $5 billion this year. On the other hand, infrastructure spending seems to be mostly intact, programs for the most vulnerable have not been cut, Alberta retains its tax advantage, and the Province is taking some baby steps toward getting us off the energy price roller coaster. Here is Dave’s take.

Budget 2015

There’s a lot of truth to the “government town” label that people often apply to Edmonton, so any Provincial cuts are going to have an impact. According to the City’s chief economist John Rose, 22% of Edmonton’s employment is related to health care, education, or public administration.

Still, Rose said in recent weeks that Edmonton as a whole would weather the storm better than others in Alberta. From his Labour Force Report issued on March 13:

“Although the impact of lower oil prices is evident in some sectors, the diversity and depth of
Edmonton’s economy has insured that employment continues to grow in Edmonton and that the
City remains a very attractive location for those seeking new opportunities.”

So what does Budget 2015 mean for Edmontonians and for Edmonton?

Highlights

Here are some of the key takeaways from the budget that I think are relevant to Edmonton:

  • For 2015-2016, Alberta Health Services (AHS) faces a decrease of $286 million or 2.1% and will need to cut nearly 1,700 positions
  • The budget includes $926 million in capital spending for health-related “capacity expansion projects” in Calgary and Edmonton
  • There is $50 million over at least two years to renovate emergency rooms in Calgary and Edmonton (specifically the Misericordia, Grey Nuns, and Royal Alexandra hospitals)
  • The budget promises than 300 new restorative care beds in Calgary and Edmonton
  • Post-secondary institutions face $114 million in cuts
  • Campus Alberta institutions (which includes the University of Alberta) are facing a 1.4% operating grant reduction in 2015-2016 and a 2.7% reduction in 2016-2017
  • School boards will receive no money for more students and must cut 3% from non-instructional costs
  • The Province says that “most” school projects announced in 2013 and early 2014 will open in 2016-2017
  • Family and Community Support Services, which helps to fund more than 60 agencies and 80 programs in Edmonton, will be maintained at $76 million.
  • Funding for police remains the same
  • Capital spending of $1.1 billion for the next 5 years includes $124 million for NAIT expansion and $120 million for NorQuest downtown
  • GreenTRIP funding remains intact, which means the first portion of the Valley Line LRT will continue to move ahead
  • MSI funding will remain stable, even if it is more of a loan than a grant
  • The smart fare proposal from Edmonton, St. Albert, and Strathcona County is still “under consideration”
  • The budget contains no funding for the proposed Galleria project

Discussion

Certainly the health care sector is going to take a hit and that will have some impact on Edmonton. The Province maintains that we can get the same quality of service for less, while critics disagree and suggest the effect of this budget won’t be felt only by those at AHS who lose their jobs but also by Edmontonians in need of care. “The time has come for us to start looking at how we can do things in a more efficient manner,” said Health Minister Stephen Mandel. “I don’t think Albertans should have to pay 20 and 30 per cent more for things.”

In addition to the cuts in health-related spending, the budget also introduces the Health Care Contribution Levy, which will apply to individuals with taxable income greater than $50,000 per year. There’s a sliding scale from $200 to $1000 depending on your income bracket. This tax takes effect on July 1, 2015, and applies to roughly 1.1 million Albertans.

The health-related surprise though was money for hospitals, especially given recent suggestions that Edmonton facilities need more than $225 million in maintenance and repairs. The previously announced funding for emergency room upgrades will help in that regard.

It’s not clear how many cuts the education sector will face, but clearly the 3% reduction is going to have an impact. A lack of new funds to deal with growth will likely also mean larger class sizes. At the post-secondary level the cuts are much smaller than many expected.

While there is no provincial sales tax, there are increases to personal income taxes. If you make more than $100,000 per year your tax rate will increase from 10% to 11.5% (phased in over three years) and if you earn more than $250,000 your tax rate will rise to 12% when fully implemented (Edmonton’s media family income is about $100,000). We know that nearly 10,000 employees of AHS earn at least $100,000 a year, which means if they aren’t among the job cuts, they will face increased personal income tax. Though it likely won’t be those who make the most that face the cuts. According to the Herald, Mandel’s own department will spend 18% more than last year.

For most Edmontonians, increased taxes, fines, and user fees will be felt immediately. Gas taxes are increasing by 4 cents to 13 cents per litre. Cigarette taxes are increasing by $5 to $45 for a carton of 200. A bottle of wine or spirits will cost 16 cents more, and a 12-pack of beer will cost 90 cents more. Fines for speeding and other traffic offences are increasing by an average of 35%. Marriage licenses are increasing by $10 as are birth and death certificates.

There is some good news for the most vulnerable Edmontonians. There will be no reductions to child care subsidies for low-income families, nor are there any reductions to the Alberta Seniors Benefit income support. The budget will also accommodate growth for AISH and Persons with Development Disabilities. Starting July 1, 2016 there will also be a new Alberta Working Family Supplement refundable tax credit on earnings up to $41,220. Funding for FCSS, which supports many Edmonton agencies, will be maintained.

On infrastructure there’s mostly good news. Or at least a sigh of relief that important projects will continue moving forward, like the Valley Line LRT which the Province previously committed to.

Responses to Budget 2015

From Mayor Don Iveson:

“The city of Edmonton and Alberta municipalities faired reasonably well on this budget, all things considered – certainly compared to what we all heard and were concerned might be coming,” Iveson said.

“The numbers are fairly small and speaking to our chief economist just now, it may have a small effect on Edmonton’s growth, but we’re talking a decimal to Edmonton’s GDP, not a side-swipe,” Iveson said.

“We can work with the dollars provided,” said Iveson.

From Doug Goss, char of the University of Alberta’s board of governors:

“The message is clear — we all have to find new ways of doing business, we have to be a little more creative,” said Goss.

From Indira Samarasekera, President of the University of Alberta:

“This is a very good outcome,” said Samarasekera, “much better than many were expecting. The provincial government is facing financial pressures, but they’ve demonstrated they understand the importance of post-secondary to Alberta’s future.”

President Samarasekera will address the campus community at a forum on March 31.

From Michael Janz, Edmonton Public School Board chair:

“We’re going to see more students arriving at the school doorsteps with no new money provided to educate them,” he said. “I don’t think this is a good news budget for Edmonton public schools.”

From Marilyn Bergstra, vice-chair of Edmonton Catholic Schools:

“The budget cuts will make it increasingly difficult to support all of our students, particularly our most vulnerable, as well as the new students that are coming to our district,” she said.

From Helen Rice, President of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA):

“Sufficient funding for infrastructure is vital to address the deficit that has continued to grow across the province, and to provide for new infrastructure requirements to meet our obligations to citizens,” said Rice.

“Given the current economic climate, now is the time to secure funding to meet infrastructure needs when prices are falling and the availability of resources to work on projects is increasing,” said Rice.

The reaction from the business community appears to be more mixed.

Budget 2015

Budget 2015 Details

Here are all the budget-related news releases:

Here is the budget presentation from Robin Campbell, Minister of Finance:

You can also download the budget speech in PDF here. You can access the full list of budget documents here.

Why isn’t City Council pushing back on the Edmonton Police Service?

An Edmonton Journal editorial in late 2002 discussed the potential decision between the police union’s campaign for 300 new officers and the operating expenses of the new helicopter that had just been donated by the Edmonton Police Foundation:

“Some would argue that the city should find the money to provide both more officers and the chopper. Yet how realistic is that? And if we must choose, which option will provide the best policing?”

In the end, Council voted to add an extra $5.1 million to the 2003 operating budget to hire 55 new officers, but rejected an increase to pay for the helicopter operating expenses. Police chief Bob Wasylyshen promised to find money elsewhere in his budget to enable the helicopter to fly.

Oh how times have changed. Now, the police get a new helicopter paid for by taxpayers, along with the operating costs of that helicopter, and they’ll get likely an increase in officers too.

Instead of asking EPS to find efficiencies in its budget as in years past, recent Councils seem content to go out of their way to support the growth of the police budget, both operating and capital. Instead of applying “Council’s 2%” to the police, Mayor Iveson is instead going to lobby higher levels of government for more money. And this year he went further – inexplicably, he’s going to lobby the helicopter industry to build a better product!

I want to live in a safe community and I have great respect for the work our police officers do. But as a taxpayer, I also want to know that I’m getting the best return on my investment. So I think it’s fair to question the police service, and as the largest part of the budget at between 16-18%, to question them harder than other departments. Is EPS really operating at maximum efficiency? Is there truly no room in the budget, now more than $360 million a year, to improve the way our police service runs?

The 20 year drought ends

Though police staffing levels have increased considerably in recent years, there was a long period of time during which the number of officers remained stagnant, despite increases in our population.

In 1991, police chief Doug McNally fought to add 11 officers, but was left with a budget of $76 million and the ability to add just one officer. He said EPS “desperately” needed additional staff, partly due to the roughly 90,000 more people that were living in the city compared with 1981.

Ten years later, in budget discussions in 2002, Councillors asked EPS about their staffing levels. The police noted that despite an increase in population of about 115,000 people from 1982 to 2001, the number of authorized police officers increased by just one to 1,138. That means the ratio of police officers to citizens went from one for every 485 people to one for every 585 people. Total FTEs had increased just 332 to 1,494.

change in ftes

Since 2001, the population has increased by about 212,000 people, and the number of FTEs at EPS has gone up by 780, to more than 2,200 today. The number of officers totals a little over 1,600. And with the 2015 budget, EPS is proposing to increase to more than 2,400 (with more than 1,700 officers), as shown in the chart above.

Declining crime stats

Despite the stagnation in staffing levels through the 1990s, crime statistics in Edmonton fell along with the rest of Canada. In 1995, Edmonton led the country with a 19% drop in crime. If the number of officers didn’t increase, how did the decrease happen? Tony Mandamin, chair of the Edmonton Police Commission at the time, offered his opinion: “What I take from that is we’re doing something different and the number one thing we’re doing different is community-based policing.”

Acting chief Al Buerger agreed, saying “no police department on its own can have that effect.” The local push to support community-based policing began in 1991. Crime rates continued to fall through the 90s and into the early 2000s.

change in csi

Despite some blips over the last 15 years, we can see that crime has continued to fall. The Crime Severity Index (includes all Criminal Code violations including traffic, drug violations, and all Federal statutes), which for Edmonton stood at 150.57 in 1998, was down to 93.34 in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

The latest statistics show that crime is down across the entire country more or less uniformly.

The disconnect

Despite the decrease in crime, we hear the same refrain year after year. We need more police officers, because the work is getting more complex and our population is increasing so dramatically.

In 1994, facing cuts in provincial grants to EPS, chief Doug McNally said “we’re absolutely assured the quality of policing will go down.” But we know that in fact it went up.

In 2001, Council cut the proposed EPS budget by $1.7 million, and they shaved $1.5 million off the capital budget too. Police chief Bob Wasylyshen said the move left him “flabbergasted”. Yet they found a way to improve the service being offered anyway.

One could argue that the increase in officers throughout the last 15 years is the reason for the decrease in crime, but you can’t make that argument for the 15 years before that. There seems to be a disconnect between the dire warnings from EPS and the facts.

Air-1, Air-2, and the helicopter debate

Despite the correlation between community policing and a decrease in crime rates, we have increasingly decided to spend money on other approaches. Like helicopters.

The push to acquire a police helicopter picked up speed in the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2002 that Air-1 was purchased and brought into regular service. A one year pilot project began in August 2001 with a leased helicopter, and a public lottery raised the $1.7 million needed to purchase it the following year. Initially, it was expected that Air-1 would cost EPS about $600,000 per year in operating costs.

In response to questions from Council in 2002 about replacing Air-1:

“The helicopter has an expected life cycle of 30 years. The EPS has an obligation to ensure the on-going maintenance will enable the equipment to remain in top condition.”

“Replacement of the helicopter has not been contemplated at this time. City funds are not anticipated to be used for any replacement of this citizen sponsored initiative. Partnership and other funding sources will be explored when this becomes a necessity.”

Then in September 2006, it was revealed that EPS was assessing the feasibility of a replacement or a complete rebuild of the helicopter. Instead, we ended up with a second helicopter. Total funding of $2 million for Air-2 was approved in 2008 ($1.65 million for the helicopter, $350,000 to outfit it for police work) and the helicopter was purchased and went into service in August 2009.

When Air-2 was purchased, the rationale was for it to take over as the primary eye in the sky, given that Air-1 was said to be unavailable 30% of the time because of maintenance.

Air 2 - Dim
Air-2, photo by Buie

We’re currently spending about $1.9 million each year on the police helicopters. Operating costs like fuel and maintenance account for $1.1 million, with the remaining $800,000 spent on personnel for six positions. In response to a question from Councillor Sohi, the EPS said “this $1.1 million is equivalent to 8 constables, but in all likelihood this $1.1 million would just be used to offset the productivity efficiencies that are realized as a result of Air-1.” Back in 2000 when public campaigns to fund a helicopter were picking up steam, an EPS official suggested a helicopter could be as effective as 30 officers.

Helicopters “are operationally available 4,845 hours over 365 days in a year, weather and maintenance permitting.” That’s half the year that they are available, but they are only budgeted to be in the air for a total of 1,700 hours, or 35% of the available time. In 2013, they flew 1,611 total hours.

We know that while the helicopters are effective when they are involved (with a 99.2% apprehension rate) the problem is they aren’t involved very often. The average response time to respond to a call is 73 seconds, but most “criminal flights” as they are called are quite short. In 2012, the helicopters were only involved in 64 or 37.6% of all recorded criminal flights.

Combined with poor weather, the helicopters just aren’t available or useful to police very often, a point that Councillor Knack returned to again and again during the most recent debate. Is that something we should be spending money on?

New helicopter(s)

In proposing the purchase of two helicopters this budget cycle, EPS Chief Knecht suggested the police would not be back at Council asking for new helicopters for close to 20 years. “Yeah right!” was my first thought. And I think that EPS’s own recommendations would call the chief’s comments into question. In response to a question from Mayor Iveson on the viability of purchasing a new EC130, EPS wrote:

“To maximize trade-in value and minimize maintenance, the EPS’s life span recommendations for any single engine helicopter within the program is 8-10 years. For a twin engine helicopter a 10- 12 year consideration is advocated.”

So realistically, EPS would be back in 10 years asking to replace their twin-engine helicopters had Council approved them.

And they didn’t want just any old helicopter, they wanted the Cadillac option at $7.2 million a piece. That’s firmly in the want category, as far as I am concerned.

In response to a question from Mayor Iveson about the pros and cons of the EC130 helicopter, EPS wrote, “EC-130’s are rarely used for law enforcement service in North America and are not viable for flight patrol operations.” If that’s the case, then how did our police service end up with two of them? UPDATE: Our service flies EC120 choppers.

EPS was looking for twin-engine models, but Council discussed the possibility of a single-engine option instead. Here’s what EPS had to say about the difference between a single-engine and a twin-engine helicopter:

“Generally, the major difference between a single engine helicopter and a twin engine helicopter is the ability for the twin to continue flying in the event one engine fails. The redundancy of this second engine would allow the EPS to reliably and safely navigate the helicopter into small spaces like helipads, heliports and forward operating bases within congested areas of the city. This redundancy also would contribute to the increased safety associated to flying longer distances over the ever expanding “built up” areas of the growing city.”

For the safety of the officers flying them, let’s hope the engines don’t fail very often. Still, that redundancy doesn’t seem like a great reason to buy a new helicopter, let alone a much more expensive one.

Though Mayor Iveson did ask about the potential for using drones, EPS basically responded that current Transport Canada regulations make them impractical for police work (despite the fact that the RCMP already uses them in some situations). “Helicopter’s and UAV platforms are not mutually exclusive,” they wrote, presumably in a bid to hang on to their helicopter funding. While that may be true, it’s not difficult to look at the rapidly increasing level of investment into drones and the changing regulatory landscapes around the world to see that we should be examining the technology more closely.

Let’s put data analytics to work on the budget

I think the helicopter debate is instructive, because it’s full of information that just doesn’t hold up upon inspection. Just like the disconnect in staffing levels vs. crime rate, there seems to be a big gap between what EPS says about the helicopters and what is actually the case.

Here’s another example. Question after question from Councillor Nickel about the 2015 operating budget was met with the same response from EPS: “The EPS does not formally measure and report on the “insert measurement here” as defined by Statistics Canada, and hence this data is not provided for 2014.” This is what we hear all the time – local police don’t use the same statistics, so it can’t be compared. Well, why not? Why aren’t we demanding comparable data? It makes it seem like they’re hiding something.

It shouldn’t be enough to point to an increasing population and to just say “the work is more complex.” The police have one of the most sophisticated data analysis systems/teams in the city, so why can’t we have better justification for their budget requests?

New helicopter is a go, what about new officers?

Mayor Iveson called the meeting this week “the most complex bit of procedural chicanery” he has ever seen. Councillor Oshry called the discussion “city government at its almost worst”. I listened on Monday night, when the first vote took place, confused all the Councillors, and was postponed until Tuesday morning.

After a long and difficult debate (that ended up being more about procedure than the issue at hand), Council voted to spend $3.47 million to buy a new single-engine police helicopter. They made that purchase subject to a report on how the new helicopter would be stored, maintained, and operated, and a report evaluating the pros and cons of the EC130 (the existing model of Air-1 and Air-2) versus the AC350 (the single-engine helicopter proposed by EPS). They also voted to have the mayor work with the Police Commission and federal government to explore housing the helicopter fleet at CFB Edmonton.

But wait, there’s more! They also decided it would be a good use of Mayor Iveson’s time to “advocate to the helicopter industry on the prospects for a suitable forthcoming enclosed tail rotor single engine model.” Look, if anyone can understand the appeal of digging in and truly understanding an issue, it’s me. But do we really need the mayor to become an expert on helicopters? And to use his already limited time to advocate to the helicopter industry? Not in my opinion.

So far during the 2015 budget discussions, Council has committed to a new helicopter (among other police-related capital expenditures) and to having the mayor lobby others for more money. Soon they’ll need to make a decision about growing the operating budget.

eps net operating requirement

Since 1999, the EPS operating budget has grown to more than $360 million. In the chart above, you can see the net operating requirement (the amount our taxes cover after revenue is taken into account) has increased by nearly three times, from about $101 million to almost $300 million.

Doing more with less

Not that long ago, Council seemed more willing to push back on EPS requests for increased funding. In 2004 for instance, EPS was tasked with cutting $2 million from its 2005 administration budget in order to help pay for up to 124 new patrol officers. A similar challenge doesn’t seem to be on the table this time around.

I don’t disagree that the Province and the federal government should contribute more to the police budget. If it’s true that EPS is handling an ever increasing workload for the feds, and I have no reason to question officials who say that’s the case, then perhaps EPS should make information about that available. At the moment, it’s not clear what portion of proposed increases are for local policing versus other work.

It’s not uncommon to hear that often the best solutions arise during times of restriction, not abundance. That’s what happened in the 1990s. “Community policing isn’t sexy,” wrote current Councillor Scott McKeen in his column in the Journal on December 11, 2002, noting that the helicopter had captured the public’s imagination. “It just works.”

In the midst of new helicopters and additional officers, I just hope we’re not missing out on the modern day equivalent of community policing. What could EPS do if they were a bit less comfortable?

Mayor Iveson on Budget 2015, Council’s 2%, City Charter, and more

On Monday, Mayor Iveson held a lunchtime “editorial board” at his office for some local bloggers. He seemed energized and excited to talk about the budget, even though he was in the middle of a day-long public hearing and barely had time to eat. Given the limited time we had available, we didn’t cover as much as I would have liked, but we did get to hear from the mayor on some important budget-related topics. Here are some that I wanted to highlight.

Mayor Don Iveson

Demystifying the Budget

Describing the budget as “by far the most complex piece of governing that we do,” Mayor Iveson said he was pleased with the attempts this year to demystify it for Edmontonians. He cited the new City Budget microsite and the associated PDF primer as two positive examples of a different approach to getting budget information to citizens.

He also mentioned the Reddit AMA with CFO Lorna Rosen. I thought that was a great initiative, but there weren’t as many questions as I expected. I asked Mayor Iveson what the City can do to increase the budget literacy so that people feel empowered to ask more meaningful questions.

“How do you usefully simplify 600 pages of information into a high level, ‘where does the money go?’,” he asked rhetorically. “People have every right to say, ‘where does this money go'” but he noted that it’s certainly not an easy process. One positive example was the Edmonton Insight Community, which serves as an educational tool as much as an input tool. More than 800 Edmontonians spent an average of 24 minutes using the interactive tool that was part of the Edmonton Insight Community survey on the budget.

“I think we could go one step further in the future, with an interactive website,” he added. The mayor envisions being able to put in your tax roll and see how your contribution breaks down by department. He says Edmontonians would be pleasantly surprised to see that the City does indeed spend the bulk of its money on the things that citizens say are important to them.

Progress on Council’s 2%

During the election, Mayor Iveson proposed a new program called “Council’s 2%” that would require City Administration to find about 2% in increased efficiency every year. The goal would be to take the roughly $20 million saved per year and invest that into either infrastructure improvements or other innovative ideas.

The goal this year was to find about $23 million in savings. So how did the City do? “They were able to find tangible changes in the $15.5 million dollar range, which for the first year out, is pretty good,” Mayor Iveson told us. But he made it clear that this work is about more than the figures. “The point is less about the exact dollar, and is about the goal of continuous improvement, and being transparent with the governors and the public about the accomplishments that they’re making.”

It’s a culture change, from what Mayor Iveson calls “pin the tail on the budget” to interactions based on trust. “We trust our staff to do the right thing if they are given the right incentives and given the right recognition for doing the right thing.” Instead of padding the budget because they think Council will just try to cut a few million, the goal is to have Administration put forward the most realistic figures they can. Mayor Iveson explained that a tiny change in assumptions can often translate into millions of dollars in the budget. Over time, that trust could translate into greater acceptance by Council of ideas brought forward by Administration, where as previous Councils would have remained skeptical.

So while the City is off to a good start with Council’s 2%, there’s still a lot of work to be done. “It’s a term-long project to instill that culture,” Mayor Iveson said.

Big City Charter

Everyone knows that Calgary, Edmonton, and the Province have been holding discussions on the idea of a big city charter, but no one seems to know where that effort is going or how successful it’ll be. Mayor Iveson said the question is not whether Edmonton will get anything from the effort, but how much we’ll get. “Getting nothing is a politically unacceptable result,” he told us. “There’s too much political expectation that something must be done.”

The mayor made his case for receiving a bigger piece of the pie. Or as he put it, “some equity in consideration of the fact that we are a hub for northern Alberta.” Though he did talk briefly about the importance of having stable funding for and “line of sight” on big infrastructure projects like LRT expansion and improvements to the Yellowhead, the mayor focused more on working with the Province in his comments.

For instance, he spent quite a bit of time talking about the cost of the Edmonton Police Service. “Policing is a huge area were we can give example after example of the load that Edmonton is carrying for northern Alberta,” he explained. He said EPS deals with national and sometimes international criminal phenomena (like cybercrime) but is funded almost entirely by Edmonton property taxes. Noting the importance of the work, he said “I don’t want to get out of that business, I just want appropriate help.”

Mayor Iveson lamented the fact that Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) funding has not been increased in quite some time, and said “if we don’t deal with some of those things proactively they can become policing challenges, which is the most expensive thing we do.” He talked about preventing people from needing to access health care, as an example, which is a big piece of the provincial budget. “I’m less interested in just getting the Province to just pay for a whole bunch more cops,” he said. “What I’m really interested in is getting the Province to fund FCSS.” It’s about working together on prevention.

That’s the mayor’s takeaway message. “The City Charter isn’t just us with a hand out,” he said, “it’s us with a handshake.”

Neighbourhood Renewal

The 1.5% levy to fund neighbourhood renewal looks like it’ll remain in place for the foreseeable future. Repeating something he has said before, Mayor Iveson told us that “people want lower taxes and they want me to fix their streets – I can’t do both.”

The general sentiment he’s hearing is that people are fine with paying a little bit more in tax now because they see things changing. They see neighbourhoods getting reconstructed, and they see potholes getting filled, they see roads being improved.

“I do worry that in the newer areas there may be less understanding that we are building up a reserve fund,” he admitted. The mayor explained that after 15 years, neighbourhoods will get preventative maintenance, and at 60 years of age, they’ll get rebuilt on time. Thanks to the neighbourhood renewal fund, new neighbourhoods won’t fall into the state of disrepair that some of our mature neighbourhoods have. “It’s actually the old neighbourhoods that got off scot-free over the last 60 years by not contributing to such a fund.”

Though he has previously suggested there might be light at the end of the tunnel for those looking for a tax break, the mayor clarified that comment. “The neighbourhood renewal levy will be fully funded on an ongoing revolving basis as of about 2018,” he told us. So you can count on that 1.5% tax levy for at least the next four years.

Mayor Don Iveson

Final Thoughts

I was very glad to have some time to hear directly from Mayor Iveson on the budget. It’s great to see that he is willing to reach out to bloggers and other social media folks, too. Budget discussions continue at City Hall for the next couple of weeks, and you can find all the relevant information here.

Coming up at City Council: November 24-28, 2014

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

In case you hadn’t heard, it’s budget time!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Council starts the week with a non-statutory public hearing on the proposed 2015 operating, capital, and utilities budgets. The public hearing is scheduled from 9:30am to 9:30pm, and if you’d like to speak, you can register here.

If you haven’t already done so, check out this microsite that the City put together as a primer on the budget. When you’re ready for more detail, you’ll find everything you could possibly want to know about the City’s budget process here. If you’d like to go through some Q&A, check out the AMA that CFO Lorna Rosen did on Reddit last week. And when you’re ready, try to come up with your own budget using the CBC’s interactive tool.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

There is one non-budget-related meeting taking place this week, and that’s the Audit Committee meeting on Tuesday. The Audit Committee is responsible for “providing oversight and consideration of audit matters brought forward by the City Auditor and the External Auditor.” Among other things, the Committee will consider:

The City Streets Audit Report determines if the City is adequately protecting roads as a capital asset (it is) and assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of the Pothole Repair Program (it is consistent with previous years). Here’s a look at how many potholes have been filled over the last 10 years:

potholes

The current average condition of all roads is considered “good”, which is 6.06 on a scale of 1 to 10. Here’s a look at how that number has changed over the years:

pqi

To date in 2014, the Office of the City Auditor has provided 17 reports to Council and the Audit Committee.

Once the Audit Committee meeting has adjourned, a selection committee meeting will be held to select/reappoint the public member of the Audit Committee.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Wednesday, the 2015 budget meetings begin. Council is scheduled to discuss the 2015 budget on both Wednesday and Thursday, and also December 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 10. If they need more time, they’ll discuss it on December 11 and 12 too.

2015 Drainage Services Utility Operating & Capital Budget

The proposed 2015 operating budget for Drainage Services has revenues of $167 million and expenditures of $127 million. The proposed 2015-2018 capital budget for Drainage Services totals $727 million.

Bylaw 16980 provides for both Sanitary Drainage & Stormwater rate increases of $0.50 per month each for the typical residential customer, to take effect on January 1, 2015.

2015 Waste Management Utility Operating & Capital Budget

The proposed 2015 operating budget for Waste Management Services has revenues of $169 million and expenditures of $172 million. The proposed 2015-2018 capital budget for Waste Management Services totals $121 million.

Bylaw 16982 sets out the proposed increases in the residential monthly waste service fee, and also changes to six facility user rates at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, all of which would take effect on January 1, 2015. The change in monthly waste service fees is $3.35 per single-family home and $2.18 per multi-family unit.

Proposed 2015-2018 Capital Budget

The proposed capital budget includes expenditures of $5.962 billion for tax-supported operations, which includes new tax-supported debt of $321.5 million, new self-supporting tax guaranteed debt of $121.4 million (to be recovered by the Downtown and Quarters CRLs), and a tax increase of 1.5% per year for the period 2015-2018 for the Neighbourhood Renewal Program.

Of the $5.962 billion, $2.830 billion was previously approved and $2.699 billion is new funding. These are big numbers and you’re probably wondering about how much debt Edmonton can carry, so check out this post from last year. Here’s a look at where the money comes from:

sources

Roughly 45% of the funding will go towards infrastructure renewal projects, which are an “investment in existing infrastructure to restore it to its former condition and extend its service life.” The remaining 55% will be spent on growth projects, which are investments in “new assets as well as…projects that add to or enhance components of existing infrastructure assets.”

Some of the major growth projects include: Valley Line LRT ($1.618 billion), Rogers Place and related infrastructure projects ($403.1 million), Blatchford ($561.4 million), and The Quarters ($47.1 million).

Here’s a look at the recommended 2015-2018 allocation by service area:

renewal vs growth

There is obviously a lot more detail in the attached reports, so if you want to dive in, now’s the time!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The budget meetings continue on Thursday, with Council slated to hear presentations from civic agencies on the proposed capital budget. Starting at 9:30am, they will hear from:

  • Edmonton Police Commission
  • Edmonton Public Library
  • Edmonton Economic Development Corporation
  • Francis Winspear Centre for Music
  • Fort Edmonton Management Company
  • TELUS World of Science

Proposed 2015 Operating Budget

Following those presentations, Council will look at the proposed 2015 operating budget, they’ll have presentations from each of the major departments, like Community Services and Sustainable Development.

The budget discussions will continue over the next three weeks.

That’s it! You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online.