Coming up at City Council: February 15-19, 2016

It has been a couple of months since my last “Coming up at City Council” update – time to get back into the routine. Thanks to everyone who has provided positive feedback on this series!

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Photo by City of Edmonton

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Infrastructure Report Card

Every year the City compiles an annual inventory of its infrastructure. The report for 2014 is now available while the 2015 inventory is still under development. The 2014 Report indicates that the City’s replacement value for all of its infrastructure assets is $42.8 billion. Of that, $29.4 billion is drainage and road right-of-way, hence the phrase “roads and pipes”.

infrastructure value by asset 2014

The average state and condition of the City’s assets are as follows:

  • 57% of the City’s assets are in good or very good physical condition, 30% in fair condition and 13% in poor or very poor condition
  • 65% of the City’s assets have very good demand/capacity, 19% have fair demand/capacity and 16% have poor or very poor demand/capacity
  • 79% of the City’s assets have good functionality, 9% have fair functionality and 12% have poor or very poor functionality

How does that compare to other municipalities? “In comparison to national averages in the 2016 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card, the City of Edmonton generally has fewer assets in good and very good physical condition and more assets in fair condition.”

There are lots of charts and other information in the report, which you can read here (PDF).

ETS Bus & LRT Review

Well this report from the City Auditor is just depressing. I use transit and want to support ETS, but this just makes it extremely difficult to do so. The auditor found that “the reliability of service has been declining” and worse that “actions being taken to address reliability issues (i.e., on-time performance and overcrowding) are not improving the overall system performance.” Combine that unreliability with the cost of transit (which just went up yet again) and the value proposition isn’t very appealing. The single cash fare in 2011 was $2.85 and today it’s $3.25.

ets reliability

This chart shows that:

  • “Adherence to service schedules has declined from 2012 to 2015.”
  • “The best overall performance period was in the June to August period. In 2012, 74% of service was on-time. In 2014, performance declined to 69%.”
  • “The worst performance was experienced in the December to January period. In 2012, 60% of service was on-time. In 2014, performance declined to 58%.”
  • “The 90% performance target for arrival was not achieved in any time period measured.”

Why is the performance so bad? ETS says it is “a reflection of an increase in the number of persons with mobility devices and strollers, construction activity, and increased traffic congestion on city streets.” Sounds like a lot of excuses to me. On top of that, they suggest that operating budgets did not include funding to address these issues.

Capacity issues are also a problem. “In total there were 1,328 pass-by incidents reported in 2014,” the report notes. “Bus Operators estimated that more than 21,700 customers were affected.” While the current ETS fleet meets “the majority of ridership capacity needs” the report notes that “35% of customers rated overcrowding as unsatisfactory.”

Here are the auditor’s three conclusions:

  • ETS services are generally delivered in an efficient and economical manner when compared to other public transit organizations.
  • Service reliability expressed in terms of on-time performance was lower in 2014 than in prior years.
  • A lower percentage of ETS operating expenditures are funded by revenues than for comparable public transit organizations, single ride cash fares are comparable to that of other public transit organizations, and monthly pass prices are below average for comparable organizations.

You can find the auditor’s report here and Administration’s response here.

Designating the Molson Brewery as a Municipal Historic Resource

Bylaw 17507 “is to designate the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building as a Municipal Historic Resource and to allocate financial incentives for its restoration.” This bylaw is ready for three readings.

Molson Brewery Building, Edmonton
Photo by Connor Mah

Here are the details:

  • “The heritage value of the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building, built in 1913, consists in its association with the formation of the brewing industry in Edmonton and Alberta, its functional, yet artistic design, and its association with Chicago architect Bernard Barthel.”
  • “The Province has initiated the process to designate the building as a Provincial Historic Resource.”
  • “A payment of $417,550 annually over a ten-year period will be made to the owner to encourage the designation of the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building as a Municipal Historic Resource in accordance with City Policy C450B.”
  • “Annual rehabilitation grant payments of $417,550 will be made from the Heritage Reserve Fund to the owner starting in 2016, and will extend to 2025. However, the owner will be required to complete the identified rehabilitation work to the building by December 31, 2021.”
  • “The total estimated cost of the restoration portion of the project for the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building is over $8,350,999. Other non-heritage work is estimated at another $3,590,462.”

Great to see this moving forward!

Other interesting items

  • A review of the City’s Debt Management Policy finds that it “is consistent with debt management practices in other Canadian cities.” I wrote about Edmonton’s debt back in 2013 during the municipal election.
  • Executive Committee has recommended that the funding agreement between the City and EEDC for the Edmonton Film Fund be approved. They also voted on February 2 to have Administration, the Edmonton Arts Council, EEDC, and industry work together to develop “a preferred model to replace the Film Commission.”
  • Bylaw 17527 is an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw to “add Urban Gardens, Urban Outdoor Farms and Urban Indoor Farms to additional zones.” Council approved the three new classes back on October 19, 2015 as well as the zones they apply to. Additionally, they asked for special area residential zones like Terwillegar to allow Urban Gardens and for Commercial Shopping Centre zones to allow Urban Farms, which is what this bylaw will allow, among other minor changes.
  • As of February 4, there are 34 recommendations from the City Auditor outstanding, 10 of which are overdue. Administration has completed 13 recommendations since November 2015 and has provided an update on recommendations that are more than 6 months overdue.
  • The Coin Processing Audit report suggests that “the City’s coin processing operations are effective in mitigating the risk of mismanagement of City cash” and that “the services Coin Processing Operations provides are economical compared to other municipalities.”
  • Council’s furniture budget remains unchanged for 2016 at $11,278. Only $3,073 of last year’s budget was spent.

Wrap-up

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. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Edmonton’s Valley Line LRT moves forward with commitment from the Province

It was the announcement Edmonton was hoping for last Thursday when the Province unveiled its Budget 2014: money for southeast LRT extension to Mill Woods.

Valley Line LRT Funding Announcement

Edmonton’s Valley Line LRT is moving forward after the Province today made a commitment to provide up to $600 million to help finance the project. In a prepared statement, Premier Alison Redford said:

“Alberta is preparing to welcome a million new residents over the next decade, many of whom will be choosing communities like Edmonton as their home. Our Building Alberta Plan is helping municipalities build public transit systems to accommodate growth and make it easier for Albertans of all ages and levels of mobility to get where they need to go.”

In stark contrast to his disappointment last Thursday, Mayor Don Iveson was understandably pleased with today’s result, calling it “a momentous occasion”:

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Today’s announcement was a bit over-the-top in my opinion, with Premier Redford, cabinet ministers, and MLAs arriving at Churchill Station via LRT. I think Mayor Iveson picked up on the pomp as well, joking that he hoped the ministers enjoyed their trip on the LRT.

Valley Line LRT Funding Announcement

It was a good opportunity for Edmontonians to show support for LRT expansion however, with students from City Hall School holding up #yeg4lrt signs at the top of the escalator. There was a sizable crowd gathered and lots and lots of media on hand to capture the event. If you’d like to watch the announcement, you can see the raw footage here.

What the Province has committed to is:

  • up to $250 million under GreenTRIP over three years beginning in 2016-17 upon approval under the second call for GreenTRIP projects,
  • up to $150 million in matching provincial funding if the federal government approves this project under the new Building Canada Fund beginning in 2016-17, and
  • up to $200 million in an interest-free loan to be repaid by the city over 10 years, fully backed by the Alberta Capital Finance Authority (ACFA).

As Mayor Iveson noted today, only $400 million of that is new money. The interest-free $200 million loan is simply a creative way to bridge the gap.

Valley Line LRT Funding Announcement

It is unusual though not unprecedented for the Province to offer interest-free loans to municipalities through the Alberta Capital Finance Authority (ACFA). For instance, a program known as “ME first!” launched in September 2003 and provided interest-free loans to encourage municipalities to achieve energy savings in their operations. It is common for the City to receive loans from ACFA for infrastructure projects, with typical interest rates ranging from 1.6% to 3.3%. Some projects that the City has previously borrowed for include the Whitemud Drive/Quesnell Bridge rehabilitation, the Walter Bridge replacement, and the NAIT LRT line. Any loans would be subject to the Municipal Government Act, which outlines debt limits and other restrictions. Edmonton is well within both the provincial debt limit and its own more strict limits.

Technically the money won’t start flowing until 2016, which perhaps not coincidentally happens to be the pre-election budget. It certainly did feel like a politically motivated announcement today. The Province received immense pressure from Edmontonians after last week’s budget and Mayor Iveson and his colleagues on Council did a good job of harnessing that to their advantage (the mayor even played along with the #SadDonIveson meme).

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As Dave noted today:

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Still, the assurance from the Province means that the City can keep the project moving forward, and that’s a win for Edmonton. We won’t lose a construction season, and the federal funding will likely be received without issue. Mayor Iveson confirmed:

“Knowing that we have a clear pathway to apply for those dollars allows City Council to consider moving ahead to the next step of this journey.”

The mayor thanked Council, our regional neighbours, and the ministers at the Province for working hard to get the deal done.

Valley Line LRT Funding Announcement

I know many people have been working on this for a long time, but I think Mayor Iveson deserves a lot of credit for making this happen. He expressed disappointment and frustration last week, but did not alienate the cabinet ministers he needed to work with to move things forward. He kept the lines of communication open, and clearly said the right things.

Today’s news, while positive for the Valley Line LRT, is not the long-term commitment that the mayor has been seeking, but it is another step in the right direction.

Valley Line LRT

Here’s a look at what the Valley Line LRT will look like from Mill Woods to 102 Avenue downtown (subject to change):

The City’s website has already been updated with details related to the funding:

“Thanks in part to timely commitments by our provincial and federal partners, the Valley Line will remain on schedule for a construction start of 2016, aiming to be open to the public by the end of 2020.”

The next step is a Request for Proposals to shortlist qualified consortia (groups of affiliated companies) that bid on the project. That stage is expected to take three months.

Keep up-to-date on the Valley Line LRT here or sign up for email updates.

Province to Edmonton’s City Council: “You’ll like the 2014 budget…just kidding!”

Things were looking up for LRT expansion in Edmonton. As recently as a few weeks ago, Mayor Iveson sounded optimistic that the Province was going to provide money for LRT. Other members of City Council had also received positive indications from the Province. But talk is cheap, and the Province didn’t follow through with today’s budget, as Mayor Iveson made clear:

“Not in a position to celebrate anything today at this point. Little bit of disappointment that yesterday’s message and really the message our Council has been consistent about since last year hasn’t quite gotten through yet.”

The Province unveiled its 2014 Budget this afternoon, saying it “delivers the core services Albertans expect, makes strategic investments in innovation to improve the lives of Albertans today and into the future, and strengthens new and existing infrastructure to address the demands of our growing province and economy.” Unfortunately, LRT was not deemed a priority as evidenced by the complete lack of commitment to funding its ongoing expansion in Edmonton and Calgary.

The original GreenTRIP fund of $2 billion, created by the Stelmach government in 2008, has not been increased. MSI funding increased slightly, but not nearly enough to fund the LRT expansion to Mill Woods. Besides, as Mayor Iveson again pointed out today, Edmonton has a need for LRT funding on top of all the things that MSI funding is used for in other municipalities – building libraries, recreation centres, etc. The lack of increase in GreenTRIP funding was especially disappointing to the mayor:

“My interpretation of long-term commitment to GreenTRIP isn’t just saying we’re going to roll out all the money we announced serveral years ago by 2019 and announce this year’s money like its new when its actually money that we’re putting into the NAIT line today because its money that was announced previously.”

He clarified yet again what a long-term commitment would look like:

“For me, a long-term commitment to transit would be an open-ended or ten year commitment to sustained levels of funding for rapid transit expansion in our province.”

The reaction from local leaders was disappointment, as expected. “There’s no new commitment to transit here,” Mayor Iveson said.

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There are two key risks the City faces by not receiving funding for LRT expansion from the Province. The first risk is that we miss yet another construction season, which could add around $65 million to the total cost of the project. The City has a deadline of April 30 to try to get all of the necessary funding in place. If that date isn’t met, then the completion of the Southeast LRT expansion by 2019 is in jeopardy.

The second risk is that the federal funding Edmonton has applied for under the P3 Canada program could be at risk if construction doesn’t begin by the end of 2015. “There is a timeline on the P3 grant,” Mayor Iveson said. “If we were to lose another year, then we would potentially begin to lose some of the federal funding, and then we’d really lose momentum.”

Mayor Don Iveson

But the biggest issue here is that the Province made noise about a long-term commitment to LRT, and simply hasn’t delivered. Mayor Iveson expressed his frustration with this:

“Frankly I received a lot of mixed messages from the Province over the last six to eight weeks, that we’d be happy, that we should manage our expectations, that we’d be satisfied, that we’re asking for too much, and often from the same people, so that is a frustration.”

Still he tried to remain optimistic, adding, “that just tells me that things are fluid still.”

You can listen to Mayor Iveson’s full remarks here:

If there wasn’t already a trust issue between City Council and the Province, there most certainly is now. Conversations can only be considered productive if they actually lead to an outcome that all sides are happy with. If the Province wasn’t prepared to make a commitment now, they should have made that clear to the mayor and the rest of Council.

Asked what he thought about his first provincial budget experience since taking office, Mayor Iveson sighed audibly. “That’s what I think,” he said. Ever the optimist, he said he remained dedicated to working with the Province to find a positive outcome for the city. “I think they’ve figured out in the last 24 hours that we really mean it, this is really important to us.”

You can read more about the Province’s Budget 2014 here.