Coming up at City Council: February 2-6, 2015

It’s Committee week!

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

Monday, February 2, 2015

Council starts the week with a Community Services Committee Meeting scheduled to take place from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are three reports on the agenda, all of which require approval by Council.

Accessibility Advisory Committee

This report is for bylaw 17002 which will replace bylaw 13194 and change the name from the Advisory Board on Services for Persons with Disabilities to the Accessibility Advisory Committee (because committees are advisory in nature). Apparently a survey of other municipalities found that 70% use the name “Accessibility Advisory Committee”. It also follows the new standard for establishing bylaws of this nature, and would allow the Chair to participate in the shortlisting process for recruiting new members.

Amendment to the Public Places Bylaw

This bylaw is all about the decision to prohibit smoking in Churchill Square. Bylaw 17004 is ready for three readings and enables the City Manager to designate certain outdoor spaces as no smoking areas. What’s interesting is that Administration through the City Manager will now have the power to designate any area as a no smoking area, not just Churchill Square. If the three readings pass, the bylaw would come into effect on April 15, 2015.

Amendment to the Community Standards Bylaw for Backyard Fire Pit Control

This amendment, bylaw 17031, would prohibit outdoor fires during air quality advisories. The fine for violation will be $250, increasing to $500 for subsequent offences. Less than ten violation tickets were issued in 2014 for outdoor fire offences.

Delayed Reports

Three reports have been rescheduled for future meetings:

  • Fire Pit Enforcement Options – March 23, 2015
  • EPS: Policing Expenditures for Non-Residents – March 23, 2015
  • Options for prohibiting smoking at all outdoor City-owned facilities – April 20, 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Council will hold its next Executive Committee Meeting on Tuesday, scheduled to run from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are nine reports on the agenda, three of which require Council approval. Here are some agenda items that I was particularly interested in:

Policy on Construction Hoarding Standards

I have been concerned about construction hoarding, especially throughout downtown, for a while now. As a pedestrian, the current approach could be described as lacking, at best. Council has heard the concern and complaints from the community and a new policy on construction hoarding has bee proposed.

“Urban densification and a vibrant public realm are key elements to increasing the livability and sustainability of our city. As the city grows, it is crucial to maintain and improve the walkability and vibrancy of the public realm without hindering development in areas best suited for densification. The City of Edmonton promotes the use of construction hoardings that balance the interests of all parties in order to achieve pedestrian safety, transportation mode equity, vibrant streetscapes and community.”

This is a great step forward. The City will develop a template for hoarding agreements and set of standard clauses. They are reviewing the Safety Codes Permit bylaw and other applicable bylaws and will make recommended amendments as appropriate.

North LRT to NAIT Construction

Most importantly, the importance of the pedestrian appears to have been realized:

“A review of Edmonton’s current hoarding fees revealed that the amount charged for the
occupation of road is nearly four times more per square metre than for sidewalk. This creates an incentive to keep the road clear while occupying the sidewalk. Administration is working to change fees to reflect the importance of sidewalks in high pedestrian areas and acknowledge the City’s commitment to encourage active transportation.”

Incentives for public art are also being explored, which could make hoarding much more attractive. On top of that, improvements for public notification about road and sidewalk closures have been requested and will be considered.

This is really great news!

Direct Control Zoning for the Protection of Historic Character

Back in November, Council asked for a report on areas that may be suitable for DC zoning to protect historic character. The report outlines some definitions for heritage districts and the criteria used to identify heritage properties and character areas. These are typically 50 years or older. Edmonton currently has seven identified heritage character areas:

  • Westmount Architectural Heritage Area (1997)
  • Strathcona Historical Commercial Area (1998)
  • Historic West Ritchie Area (2011)
  • Garneau Special Character Residential Area (1982)
  • Viewpoint Special Character Area (1982)
  • Oliver Special Character Area (1997)
  • The Brickyard at Riverdale (2001)

Additional potential heritage character areas have been identified in McCauley, Alberta Avenue, Westmount, Inglewood, Glenora, Jasper Place, and Beverly Heights.

Edmonton’s heritage program was established in 1981 “in response to the loss of a number of key historic resources in Downtown.”

Building Canada Fund Projects

This report outlines the projects that could be submitted to the federal government under the new Building Canada Fund. The National Infrastructure and the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure components of the fund provide a combined $14 billion for projects, with a variety of rules and restrictions that much be followed.

Yellowhead Trail
Yellowhead Trail by Brittney Le Blanc

The proposal is for Yellowhead Trail Improvements (Stages 1-5) to be our city’s priority under the National Infrastructure component. Five projects would be designated under the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure component: LRT Expansion, Key Grade Saparations (50 Street and 75 Street underpasses, Manning/Meridian Interchange), Neighborhood Flood Mitigation Program, Fort Edmonton Park Utility Infrastructure Upgrades, Edmonton Energy and Technology Park.

The City’s portion of those projects would be funded using tax-support debt. Land acquisition is not eligible for funding under the Building Canada Fund, and that is expected to make up more than $200 million of the Yellowhead Trail project costs, so that’s a concern.

TOD on the Coliseum LRT Station and Northlands Site

This report is an update on plans for transit oriented development around Coliseum LRT Station. The high level update is that plans are on hold until the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee (which I am a member of) makes it recommendation on the future of Rexall Place and until the Northlands Board of Directors completes its Strategic Planning Process. The City is meeting regularly with Northlands and have agreed to “evolve a partnership relationship and to enhance communication and collaboration.”

Other

Delayed Reports

Two reports have been rescheduled for future meetings:

  • Possible Amendments to Procedures & Committees Bylaw 12300 – February 24, 2015
  • Public Hearing Process (Henderson/McKeen) – April 21, 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The final meeting of the week will be the Transportation Committee Meeting on Wednesday from 9:30am until 5:30pm. Here are the four reports that will be discussed:

Raising Awareness for High Collision Areas

This report follows on from a request made back in November to explore how to raise awareness of high collision locations. It summarizes six measures that may increase driver awareness of those locations:

  • Static Roadside Signs
  • Dynamic Roadside Signs
  • Pavement Markings
  • Intersection Safety Devices (cameras)
  • Improve Signal Visible Measures
  • Public Engagement and Communications

The report says that static roadside signs “have been shown to have minimal effectiveness on collision reduction.” The City is proposing to update the signs to include more information on what action needs to be taken (slow down, exert caution when merging, etc.). Dynamic roadside signs are like digital message boards or signs that show a driver’s speed. The report says that for speed limit compliance, “Driver Feedback Signs are effective as a speed management tool.”

high collision sign

Pavement markings can be effective, but less so in Edmonton where the roads are covered in snow for so much of the year. Apparently cameras at intersections “showed significant reductions” in collision severities and types. The report says the best way to improve signal visibility is to put it overhead, a measure which “can reduce collisions by 30 to 35 percent.” Finally, the report says public engagement campaigns can be effective, such as a program that resulted in a 15 percent reduction of red-light running vehicles.

Expropriation of Lands for the Valley Line LRT

Council approval is required to begin the expropriation process, so I expect the Committee to make that recommendation as a result of this item. By starting the process, the City will be able to negotiate with property owners to reach a settlement or a Section 30 Agreement (which allows the Land Compensation Board to determine the compensation when a settlement between the two parties cannot be reached).

The required expropriations and temporary and permanent construction easements for this stage are all the land around Mill Woods Town Centre (Lot 3, Block 6, Plan 0022000).

Open Tenders of $20 million or greater

Bylaw 12005 requires that open tenders greater than $20 million require Committee approval. This report highlights one tender, number 927871, which is for “Dust-free Mechanical Street Sweeping and Related Services”. The value of the project is between $30 million and $50 million.

Eliminating Railway Whistling at Public Crossings

Back in November, Councillor Esslinger asked for information about how to eliminate railway whistling at public crossings in the densely populated areas of north Edmonton, particularly late at night. The report says that train whistling is required under Transport Canada’s operating rules, but that an exemption could be sought if the City and CN worked together to apply for one. It would require a “whistling cessation study” to be completed at an approximate cost of $50,000 per location. Depending on the outcome of the study, crossing upgrades would likely be added on top of that cost. There is currently no budget allocated for any of this.

Delayed Reports

Eight reports have been rescheduled for future meetings:

  • Escalators at LRT Stations (Walters/Iveson) – February 25, 2015
  • Traffic Noise from the Anthony Henday (Oshry) – February 25, 2015
  • Low Income Transit Pass Pilot – April 22, 2015
  • Public Involvement Plan – Barriers to Participation – May 6, 2015
  • Community Traffic Management Plan Pilot (Prince Charles & Pleasantview) – May 6, 2015
  • Community Traffic Management Process Possible Changes – May 6, 2015
  • Opportunities for Commercial Development in Future LRT/Transit Infrastructure – June 17, 2015
  • Bike Lane Removal (Nickel) – June 17, 2015

Wrap-up

It’s not up yet, but I expect an overview of everything that happened this week to be on the Mayor’s Week in Review Blog soon.

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.

17 reasons why City Council deserves the 3.8% raise

City Council will receive a 3.81% salary increase in 2015, which would make the mayor’s salary $176,145 and the councillors’ salary $99,994. That’s an increase over their 2014 salaries of $6,464 and $3,671, respectively. As one third of that is tax exempt, the fully taxable equivalent salary is $213,272 for the mayor and $118,824 for the councillors. At the end of the day, we’re talking about another $50,516 per year to pay for all the increases. It’s not a large amount, and I think it’s fair.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Here are 17 reasons why Council deserves the proposed raise, in no particular order:

  1. Under our current twelve ward system, Councillors represent between 60,000 and 95,000 Edmontonians each. And our city is one of the fastest growing in the country, so that number is only going up!
  2. Council’s compensation is calculated in an open and transparent way using the percentage change in the 12 month average of the Alberta Weekly Earnings values as reported by Statistics Canada.
  3. Just counting Council & Committee meetings and public hearings, Council met 115 times in 2014. Those meetings included a combined 3,825 agenda items. Many of those included multi-page reports. That’s a lot of reading!
  4. Unlike other levels of government, Councillors do not vote on their own pay raises. It’s done automatically through an independent system that was established in 2011 by bylaw 15969.
  5. An increase of 3.8% is nothing compared with historical increases! Before the current system was implemented, aldermen awarded themselves large increases. In 1972 aldermen gave themselves a 26% increase, and in 1977, immediately after the election, aldermen tried to increase their salaries by 60%! In 1989, aldermen approved a 51% increase over three years.
  6. Supported by Council, our mayor stood up in front of a room full of business people and said that while attempting to eliminate poverty is a complex challenge, he is is unafraid to tackle it. This Council believes in the importance of representing and improving the lives of all Edmontonians.
  7. Councillors work long hours, way more than 40 per week in most instances. Just look at the last week – they had a marathon discussion about Uber and taxis that went to nearly 10pm, and they extended the January 26 Public Hearing twice in order to give everything the time it deserved. On top of that they regularly attend community events throughout the week and on weekends. A busy week could easily exceed 60 hours.
  8. Councillor Gibbons estimated back in 2012 that the proposed 5.35% increase that year worked out to an extra $2 per hour based on the number of hours he puts in.
  9. Many members of Council choose to direct portions of their salary or their eligible increases to worthy causes. For instance, in 2011, 2012, and 2013 Councillor Iveson donated $2,505 of his salary to the Donate-a-Ride program. Sometimes members of Council simply decline an increase. For instance, Mayor Mandel froze his salary for three years until his final year in office.
  10. They are working hard to develop a “true partnership” with the Province that will result in the long-term sustainability of our city. They are renewing neighbourhoods now and building up a fund to pay for maintenance in the future. They’re concerned with Edmonton’s future, not just its present.
  11. A study on the perception of Council’s compensation in 2012 (pdf) found that the annual salaries for comparable positions for the mayor and councillors align well with the actual salaries they receive.
  12. One comparison to another leader in our community: outgoing University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera earned a salary of $544,000 last year. Another comparison: more than 3,100 Alberta government employees earned over $100,000 a year in 2012 and 2013.
  13. Unpopular as the idea may sound, research suggests that higher wages attract better quality politicians and improve political performance. This was the argument made in Boston recently too when Councillors there debated giving themselves a 29% raise.
  14. Council is committed to building our city’s infrastructure, and they’re getting results, securing funding for the Valley Line LRT extension as an example.
  15. If rising costs are your concern, there are far more expensive things to be concerned about. Here are 99 stupid things the government spent your money on. At #53: “The City of Edmonton spent $500,000 on licences for software that an auditor said hardly any employees ever use.” Back in 2008, the City spent $92 million on consultants.
  16. After taking into account the difference in tax exemptions, our mayor and councillors make roughly the same amount as their counterparts in Calgary.
  17. Every year, no matter what they do, Councillors have to deal with hundreds if not thousands of complaints about snow removal, potholes, and other hot topics. Not to mention hearing constant NIMBYism and receiving all kinds of criticism as they try to make positive change for now and the future. It really is a thankless job at times.

I’m sure you can think of many other reasons – what are yours?

Yes, improvements could be made. I’d like to see the salaries stated in terms of the fully taxable equivalent for instance, rather than having to explain that 1/3 is tax exempt. Still, I think it’s crazy how upset some citizens get whenever the topic of salary increases for City Council comes up. There’s no shortage of other more important issues to discuss.

Coming up at City Council: January 26-30, 2015

For an overview of everything that happened this week, check out the Mayor’s Week in Review Blog.

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Council starts the week with a Public Hearing scheduled to take place from 1:30pm until 9:30pm. There are 27 bylaws listed on the agenda – here are a few that caught my eye:

Bylaw 16733 – Text Amendment to the Zoning Bylaw

This bylaw is ready for three readings after the public hearing has been held and its purpose is to change the terminology for height regulations in the zoning bylaw. Specifically it’ll remove “storeys” as a definition for maximum height.

“The current regulations in Zoning Bylaw 12800 manage height through a numerical distance and a description of building form, but this often creates a contradiction between opportunities. For example, a building could meet the numerical height requirement but not meet the storey requirement.”

This bylaw increases the maximum height in all affected zones from 14 metres to 16 metres in response to advances in building construction methods. “For example, the (RA7) Low Rise Apartment Zone allows a four storey building in 14 metres, but it is not possible to fit a four storey building within this allowance using standard grade calculation methods and typical building designs.” The bylaw also clarifies when a wind study or sun shadow study should be requested, and adds basic evaluation criteria for both.

Bylaw 17011 – Adoption of The Decoteau Area Structure Plan

This bylaw is ready for first and second reading only, which means it’ll be back to Council at least one more time. It deals with the Area Structure Plan (ASP) for the area known as Decoteau, which is south of Anthony Henday Drive, east of 50 Street SW, west of Meridian Street SW, and north of 41 Avenue SW. Really far in the southeast, basically.

Decoteau ASP

This is one of the Urban Growth Areas defined in The Way We Grow, and this ASP is the final one to be prepared and advanced to Council. An ASP describes the land uses and their general locations. The proposed Decoteau ASP is approximately 1,960 hectares and proposes a population of nearly 68,000 living in five neighbourhoods. Here’s the vision for the Decoteau ASP:

“Decoteau embraces its unique landscape to provide residents with a remarkable ecological and recreational network comprised of interconnected wetlands, parks and open spaces. It integrates residential development with retail/commercial nodes, the ecological/recreational network, a significant business employment area, and a dynamic mixed use town centre to create walkable, complete communities for all seasons. The result is a group of diverse neighbourhoods that are connected to surrounding communities yet grounded in the local landscape.”

That was developed by a stakeholder advisory group of land owners, residents, developers, the City, and special interest groups. The area is intended to develop over the next 35-40 years.

The ASP discusses revenue and expenditure expectations over a 50 year time span. It’s a projection, based on build-out in approximately 39 years with a total population of 67,816 people.

decoteau costs

As you can see, cumulative costs exceed cumulative revenues. “So as the City grows this and other residential areas, it must also grow its non-residential areas to maintain balanced growth.” It’s another neighbourhood that can only be supported in the long-run by acquiring more non-residential land, which requires more residential areas, etc. “In other words, for the City as a whole to maintain the current ratio, there needs to be approximately $5 billion of non-residential assessment for every $20 billion in residential assessment growth.”

Horse Hill ASP, NSP, and Meridian Street/Manning Drive Interchange

Bylaw 17021 includes an amendment to the Horse Hill ASP that reconfigures some of the proposed elements and would result in an increase in the net residential density from 31 to 33.4 units per net residential hectare. Bylaw 17022 is the Neighbourhood Structure Plan (NSP) for the proposed Horse Hill Neighbourhood 2, which is bounded by 195 Avenue NW to the north, the North Saskatchewan River to the east, Horsehills Creek to the south, and Manning Drive to the west. The NSP will accommodate 25,800 people in approximately 10,800 dwelling units, resulting in a density of 38.1 units per net residential hectare. Bylaw 17030 is being considered along those two, and amends the boundary of the North Saskatchewan River Valley ARP.

Bylaw 17032 is an amendment to the Arterial Roads for Development bylaw that proposes the transportation levy for Horse Hill include a contribution of funds to the interchange at Meridian Street and Manning Drive. The land is under provincial jurisdiction, but “the Province has indicated that it will not construct the interchange.”

Oliver ARP & mixed used building up to 14 storeys

Bylaw 17040 and Bylaw 17041 together proposed to amend the Oliver ARP to allow for the development of medium to high rise mixed-use development on the north side of Jasper Avenue between 121 Street and 122 Street. Currently on that site is the 121 Jasper Liquor Store, Planet Organic, and some empty lots. The second bylaw would rezone from DC1 and CB1 to CB3 which would allow for mixed-use developments up to 14 storeys in height.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On Tuesday Council will be holding a regular Council meeting. Here is an overview of the agenda:

Reports

There are three new reports to be discussed:

Bylaws

There are 14 bylaws that Council will consider, including:

  • Bylaw 17091 – making the name change of the Chinatown Business Revitalization Zone official
  • Bylaw 17092 – to amend the Quarters CRL bylaw to increase borrowing authorization by $44.345 million
  • Bylaw 17075 – this one is like bylaw inception, amending bylaw 15156 as amended by bylaw 15978 – bottom line: it’s to increase borrowing authorization for the Great Neighbourhoods Initiative by $60 million
  • Bylaw 17076 & Bylaw 17077 – to undertake, construct, and finance the new Northwest Police Campus and Dispatch and Emergency Operations Centre
  • Bylaw 17053 – to authorize the City to lend up to $1.2 million to Waste RE-solutions Edmonton

Six of the other bylaws are to undertake, construct, and finance various Waste Management projects.

Committee Recommendations

The following recommendations have been referred to Council for a vote:

Motions Pending

There are two motions pending, both from Councillor Henderson:

Private and Verbal Reports

There are six private or verbal reports listed on the agenda, which means they’re subject to FOIPP and are not made public due to sensitive information that could diminish the City’s negotiating position or ability to compete:

  • Settlement of an Expropriation Claim – Fort Road Widening
  • Settlement of an Expropriation Claim – Fort Road Old Town Redevelopment
  • Bargaining Update (verbal report)
  • City of Edmonton Nominee – Utilities Consumer Advocate Advisory Board
  • Municipal Development Corporation – Possible City Properties
  • Event Update No. 4 – Commonwealth Games (verbal report)

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.

City Council opens the door for Uber to operate legally in Edmonton

After a marathon meeting that lasted until nearly 10pm, Council eventually decided to look at new regulations that could make Uber legal while enforcing the existing bylaws in the meantime. The motion put forward by Councillor Knack also seeks additional data on the taxi industry and directs Administration to look at issuing additional taxi plates. “The world has evolved and people want choice,” he said.

Here’s the motion that Council passed unanimously this evening:

  1. That Administration work with the Transportation Network Companies and other stakeholders to provide a report, before the end of the third quarter, to include a draft bylaw that would establish public safety rules and regulations for the operation of Transportation Network Companies.
  2. That, in parallel with the work in part 1, Administration work with the Taxi Industry to provide a report, before the end of the third quarter, with a draft bylaw to amend the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 14700 to provide for improved taxi service standards, and with recommendations for issuance of additional taxi plates.
  3. That, in the meantime, Administration request that UBER temporarily suspend operations in the Edmonton market and if they refuse, Administration take all steps necessary to apply for an injunction against UBER to prevent its unlawful operation in Edmonton until such time as UBER complies with the applicable City of Edmonton bylaws.
  4. That Administration work with the taxi brokers to obtain data from dispatch systems on number of taxis dispatched at given times, wait times for taxis, and other information relevant to allow for determination of appropriate customer service standards and expectations.

With bullet #1, the motion seeks to create rules that would allow companies like Uber to operate legally in Edmonton. With bullet #2, it seeks to address the shortcomings that currently exist in Edmonton’s taxi industry.

“I think this approach makes sense because it leaves the City’s options open,” said Mayor Don Iveson before the motion was voted on. He also reiterated the need to have more data in order to make better decisions in the future. The mayor said it makes sense to ask companies like Uber to abide by the regulations that are in place while the City works to align them with the market.

Uber is currently operating illegally in Edmonton. It launched its service back in December and the City declared that any Uber car caught operating would be considered a “bandit taxi” and face a $1,000 fine. Uber has argued consistently that its technology and business model are fundamentally different and are therefore not explicitly covered by provincial or municipal regulations. Sometimes called a ridesharing app, a more general term for Uber is transportation network company.

Yellow Cab
Photo by Dave Sutherland

The discussion centered around the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 14700, which “regulates taxi brokers, drivers, and vehicles, but does not regulate passengers.” From the report:

“The number of allowable taxi plates within the city was frozen in 1995 to facilitate a financially viable taxi industry. The taxi rates are controlled by the City of Edmonton to ensure consumer price protection.”

Edmonton caps the number of taxi permits or plates at 1,319. It has increased the number of plates allowed a few times over the years, but the City recognizes there are still too few plates to meet demand. A report from 2007 suggests that Edmonton is 177 plates short. Council mentioned repeatedly that they have heard from constituents that there aren’t enough taxis and that wait times are too long.

At one point, Councillor Scott McKeen asked Edmonton Taxi Group president Phil Strong if the industry has been lobbying for more plates to be issued, but of course they haven’t been. “I wouldn’t know where to go,” he claimed. The issue is that by making more plates available, the value of each declines.

“Almost everybody agrees the status quo doesn’t work,” the mayor said.

There was quite a bit of discussion about the idea that the City create its own app for taxi services. The problem with that in my opinion is that what makes Uber attractive is that it works in hundreds of cities. That’s great for Edmontonians travelling elsewhere, and for visitors to our city too. A local-only app would not benefit from the economies of scale that Uber provides.

There was also a lot of discussion about driver’s licenses and insurance. Most of us have Class 5 licenses, but in order to transport passengers for profit, you need to carry a Class 4 license. You can learn more in the Commercial Drivers Guide PDF. On the topic of insurance, there was some confusion about whether or not Uber’s policy, which only kicks in if a driver’s personal insurance fails to cover an accident, was sufficient. It has not yet been tested in Canada.

Most of the speakers present at the meeting today were from the taxi industry, either drivers or representatives of the brokers. Uber’s sole representative was Chris Schafer, the Public Policy Manager for Uber in Canada. It was a packed house for most of the meeting.

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The reports that the motion seeks will include a draft bylaw, so don’t expect them to return to Council until sometime in the fall. In the meantime you can try to take Uber, but know that they are operating illegally.

Coming up at City Council: January 19-23, 2015

The winter break is over and Council is getting back to business next week.

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

Monday, January 19, 2015

Council starts the week with a Community Services Committee meeting scheduled to take place all day.

Civic Precinct Master Plan – Addressing Current Square Design

The situation here is that back in April 2013, a number of festivals expressed concern with the proposed Civic Precinct Master Plan. The City hired a consultant as a result to work to identify changes. Festival groups had issues with being limited to 99 Street for programming, concern about safety when the LRT opens along 102 Avenue, and concern about additional trees resulting in limited movement between spaces. Businesses around the Square are “largely supportive of the principles of the Civic Precinct Master Plan” the report says. In short, the City is going to move ahead with some aspects of the plan, but focused mainly on programming, operations, and governance. Revising and advancing the entire plan is “not recommended” at the moment and will be revisited once LRT construction is complete and the new line is operational.

Edmonton Arts Council Grant Recommendations

The Edmonton Arts Council has recommended that eight projects receive funding under the Cultural Diversity in the Arts program for a total of $86,700: May Banh, William Belcourt, Sofia Cristanti, Yong Fei Guan, Todd Houseman, Erika Namsechi, Yukari Meldrum, and Elisa Marina Mair Sanchez. They have also recommended $29,500 in Festival Seed Operating Grants for 2015 for the Edmonton Latin Festival, Relish Film Festival, and Sand on Whyte.

Edmonton Heritage Council Grant Recommendations

The Edmonton Heritage Council has recommended a little over $363,000 in their Operational, Project, Seed Project, and Travel grant programs. Operational grants would be going to the Alberta Aviation Museum Association, Alberta Genealogical Society, Alberta Labour History Institute, Alberta Pioneer Railway Association, Edmonton and District Historical Society, Edmonton Radial Railway Society, Edmonton Telephone Historical Information Centre Foundation, Friends of Rutherford House Society, The Olde Towne Beverly Historical Society, and Societe historique francophone de l’Alberta. One of the most interesting projects to receive a grant recommendation is ECVO’s History of Edmonton’s Human Services Sector, to “document the history of the nonprofit human services sector in Edmonton.”

Other

Here are some of the other agenda items that caught my eye:

  • Council will likely approve a recommendation to have Mayor Iveson write to the Premier and Minister of Education to share the Youth Council’s strong opposition to Bill 10 in its current form. The report states that “Bill 10 will adversely affect the lives of some of Edmonton’s most vulnerable youth and undermine the principles of inclusiveness and diversity in Alberta schools.”
  • Canada Post is undertaking the conversion to community mailboxes in Edmonton this year. The City had asked if mail carriers might use the 311 App to report incidents and issues they observe, but Canada Post has come back and basically said no.
  • It doesn’t sound like big changes are underway for recognition of citizens, but the City is considering a digital museum and Wall of Fame in City Hall.

There will also be a response to an inquiry from Mayor Iveson on charitable donations to Community Leagues, but the report for that is not yet available.

A large number of reports have been rescheduled to later dates so if you were looking for those you’ll have to wait:

  • Support to Not-for-Profit Organizations (M. Nickel) – February 23
  • Entrance Signage – March 9
  • Status Update on the New Africa Centre Facility and Strategy for the Involvement of the African Community – March 9
  • Community League Collaboration – March 23
  • Single-use Recreation Fees – April 20
  • Lewis Farms Recreation Centre – Program Statement and Recreation Facility Master Plan Updates – November 9

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On Tuesday Council will be holding its next Executive Committee meeting, also scheduled to go all day. Here are some agenda items that caught my eye:

Municipal Development Corporation Business Plan

The recommendation here is that Administration proceed with establishing a municipally owned and controlled for-profit land development corporation “to focus on City-building initiatives in addition to earning profits.” The report includes a 73 page business case for the creation of a Municipal Development Corporation (MDC) prepared by Deloitte. Benefits of an MDC include:

  • The MDC could act “more closely like a private company” to benefit from less constraints and capitalize on private sector expertise.
  • The MDC could be a catalyst to bring underutilized sites to market.
  • The MDC could “generate a financial return and also execute on key city-building objectives.”

The City currently has 9,355 land holdings across Edmonton, and estimates suggest nearly 200 could eventually be appropriate for the MDC, though roughly 30 would be appropriate to seed the corporation.

A list of possible properties that could be transferred to the MDC will be presented at the meeting, but is not available under sections 24 and 25 of the FOIPP act. Properties within West Rossdale and the Edmonton Research Park are possible candidates.

If Council approves the recommendation to establish the MDC, Administration will return by the end of Q2 with a more detailed business plan for Council’s consideration. The initiative could require up to $2 million in funding over the next two years for startup costs. The creation of an MDC also requires approval from the Province.

Uber & Vehicle-for-Hire Regulations

The highly anticipated report on vehicle-for-hire regulations and Uber is now available, and while it talks about the regulations and the taxi industry, it doesn’t say much about how the City is going to deal with Uber. The report notes that a 2007 study found that Edmonton should have 17 taxis per 10,000 people, but 2007 was a long time ago and there’s no updated information included. We currently have 15 taxis per 10,000 people, which means we have a shortfall of roughly 177 taxi plates.

The report does talk about some considerations with UberX, including: drivers and vehicles are unregulated, so no background checks are done; drivers with a Class 5 license cannot transport passengers for hire in Alberta; vehicles are not required to obtain a mechanical inspection on a regular basis; and, drivers can carry personal liability insurance rather than commercial insurance.

An attachment called “Options for Edmonton” outlines the following “options that the City of Edmonton could pursue to improve overall taxi services”:

  • Release a close number of night plates
  • Release night plates with no cap
  • Release winter plates
  • Release accessible taxi plates
  • Release regular plates
  • Allow for taxis and drivers from nearby jurisdictions to be licensed to travel from Edmonton to home
  • Encourage executive car services by reducing minimum fares, setting lower pre-booking time frame
  • Ride Share Services (essentially a modified shuttle service)
  • Open system: remove the cap on taxi license plates
  • City of Edmonton to develop its own app

Notably absent from that list? Any mention of updating the regulations to make services like Uber and Lyft legal! Nor is there any discussion of the benefits of services like Uber.

It should be an interesting discussion!

Ballpark Update and State of Baseball in Edmonton

Executive Committee had previously requested information about Telus Field, and this report is the result. “Baseball has been part of Edmonton’s social and sporting scene since the late 1880’s,” the report says. The Edmonton Prospects (a Western Major Baseball League team) played at Telus Field in 2013 and 2014, and are negotiating terms for their 2015 schedule. The report also includes an attachment called The State of Baseball Report, prepared by RC Strategies, which assesses “the current state of professional and high-level amateur baseball in Edmonton.”

Edmonton Capitals

The City owns the ballpark, which it leases to the Oilers Entertainment Group, which in turn subleases it to the Edmonton Prospects. A condition assessment was completed in 2013 and found that an investment of $1.3 million will be required over the next ten years. The report does not recommend any specific action at this time, but suggests that Administration could further explore options including the creation of a business case to make the ballpark more viable, physical changes to the ballpark, and also the implications of removing or replacing it.

River Valley Access Mechanical Lift Options

This report provides an update on the proposal to “advance the Mechanized Access and the Touch the Water Promenade projects.” Council previously approved $34.4 million for the River Valley Alliance Connective Infrastructure, $24 million of which will go to the West Rossdale Mechanized Access Project with the remainder going to the Touch the Water Promenade. Both projects are required to be completed by 2017. The City will return to Executive Committee in Q2 with another project update.

Other

A few of the other reports include:

Here too, a few reports were delayed:

  • Building Canada Fund Projects Yellowhead Trail Improvements – February 3
  • TOD on Coliseum LRT & Northlands – February 3
  • Amendments to Policy C533 – Revolving Industrial Servicing Fund – February 24
  • Designation, Preservation & Restoration of McDougall United Church – February 24
  • 109 Street Corridor ARP – March 24
  • Recreation Lake in Blatchford – March 24
  • Greyhound Main Depot Site Operations – April 21

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The next Transportation Committee meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday afternoon and to run into Thursday if necessary.

Valley Line LRT & Churchill Square

There are two reports here, one that provides information on the Valley Line LRT Churchill Station structure and integration with the Civic Precinct, and one that provides information on the impacts of the Valley Line Stage 1 construction on Churchill Square and its users.

Preliminary Engineering for the Churchill Connection Structure was completed previously, and here’s an aerial rendering of what it might look like:

churchill station

The successful P3 proposal is expected to be selected by the end of the year, with major construction set to begin in 2016. The Valley Line LRT Stage 1 is not expected to be complete until 2020.

It is expected that 102 Avenue will be totally closed for LRT construction starting in 2016 and lasting until the project is done in 2020. Churchill Square itself will remain open, with only temporary partial closures as necessary. Any closures will be limited to the period from October 1, 2016 to April 30, 2018 in an attempt to minimize the impact on festivals (affects just the 2017 summer festival season).

The Valley Line Public Engagement Plan implementation will include opportunities for meetings, updates, and Citizen Working Groups to discuss the construction and its impact.

Metro Line Update

This report has not been made available under FOIPP, but the item is time specific at 3pm. Let’s hope that Council hears the line is ready to open soon, rather than that another delay is necessary.

Other

There’s a response to an inquiry from Councillor Nickel on the Customer Intake Model for DATS. It outlines the current policies and procedures for booking DATS trips and provides an update on the process to determine applicants’ eligibility for the service.

Tons of reports have been delayed here:

  • Installation of Traffic Lights – Criteria and Process – February 25
  • Hotel Street Parking Access – February 25
  • Parking Options 66 Avenue – 88 Street – February 25
  • LRT Funding Strategies for Other Lines – February 25
  • Streetlight Pole Maintenance and Replacement Program – March 11
  • Potholes in Back Alleys – March 25
  • Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board Bylaw – April 22
  • Bike Lane Infrastructure Engagement Plan – May 6
  • North/South Connections to 83 Avenue – October 28

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 – Special Council Meeting

City Council is holding a Special meeting on Wednesday morning to get an update from Administration on public engagement. They will no doubt talk about the Building the Momentum event which is scheduled to take place on Saturday, January 24 at the Shaw Conference Centre. You can learn more about the Council Initiative on Public Engagement and about Open City initiative on the City website.

Wrap-up

Ah, isn’t great to have Council back in session? 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.

Edmonton Police Association’s reaction to the 2015 budget is disappointing

Last week, I wrote about the Edmonton Police Service and its growing budget. Now that City Council has approved the 2015 Budgets and the police have shared their reaction, I thought it was worth a follow-up.

As part of the 2015 budget, EPS had already been approved for 52 new officers. On top of that they asked for 84 more officers and FTEs, citing the new arena district and transit policing, but in the end Council only agreed to fund 35 new positions.

EPS Recruit Graduation 2009
Photo by Aaron

Councillor Loken did make a motion to increase the EPS budget by $5.183 million, but only he, Councillor Gibbons, and Councillor Caterina supported it. A later motion from Councillor Caterina proposing to increase EPS funding by $1.589 million for Transit Policing failed by a 5-8 vote, and a motion to increase funding by $7.810 million for Downtown Revitalization and Transit Policing was withdrawn. Mayor Iveson’s motion to approve the package for 35 FTEs with $2.437 million narrowly passed with a 7-6 vote.

So of the 136 new positions they were hoping for, EPS got 87 funded. Pretty good, you might think, but the police are not happy about it.

The police reaction to the budget outcome was charitably called “disappointing” by Councillor Oshry on Twitter. Tony Simioni, outgoing president of the Edmonton Police Association, made most of the comments. Here’s a sample:

“It has reached a point now where I think it’s critical,” he told the Journal.

“We’ve been very lucky in the City of Edmonton in the last 25 years. It’s just been by the grace of God that we haven’t lost any more members in the line of service,” he told the Edmonton Sun.

“I shudder to see that day coming but, if this trend continues, it’s going to occur,” he told Global Edmonton.

“We’re going have some grave consequences in public safety and in our ability to get to the calls in a timely fashion, where we already are having difficulty.” he told CTV Edmonton. “We’re the only agency that’s open twenty four seven, 365 days. So many agencies have shut down services due to lack of funding or whatever the case may be, and it’s been downloaded on sloughed off on the men and women in the Edmonton Police Service.”

Nevermind that back in 2011 when the police were under heavy scrutiny thanks to a record number of homicides, Simioni was basically saying the opposite thing. “I don’t think Edmonton is a dangerous place to live,” he told the Journal at the time. “The average citizen walking the streets in Edmonton is as safe as the average citizen walking the streets of Calgary.”

Simioni wasn’t the only one “sounding the alarm” on Friday as many in the media put it. Staff Sgt. Bill Clark also shared his comments with the Edmonton Sun:

“We’ve got several councillors out there that just don’t get it,” said the veteran officer, adding some, including Councillors Tony Caterina and Ed Gibbons are the odd ones out who do seem to get it.

“How you can justify $8 million for bike lanes, $3 million for a net on the High Level Bridge when you can look at the Groat Road Bridge and go jump off of that bridge, are you kidding me?” said Clark.

“It is simply ridiculous and we’re tired of it. The buck stops with city council. The provincial government needs to step up but that should have been done years ago.”

In my opinion, these comments are intentionally misleading and sensational, to say the least. If I worked for the police in any capacity, I’d be embarrassed by them. Heck as a taxpaying citizen I can’t believe that was the reaction!

New EPS Cruiser Livery
Photo by Kurt Bauschardt

First of all, these representatives are willfully conflating the Operating and Capital Budgets. Both bike lanes and the High Level Bridge safety rail are funded out of the Capital Budget, whereas police officer salaries are funded out of the Operating Budget. I would suggest that if you’re going to question the decisions made by Council on the record, you should know the difference. It’s not like the police received nothing in the Capital Budget, either. Council funded a new helicopter, a new Emergency Operations Centre, a police investigation and management centre, and a new police division station for Northwest Edmonton, among other things. Many tens of millions of dollars will be spent on police-related projects this cycle.

Second, whenever they don’t get their way, police representatives seem perfectly happy to suggest that crime is on the increase. All published statistics suggest otherwise, and whenever you question their performance rather than their budget, the story is that crime is down and the police are doing an effective job. This has been documented again and again by the local media. I suggest the eight crime indicators that EPS claims to measure daily be made available in the open data catalogue and on the Citizen Dashboard, so that there’s no uncertainty about the crime stats.

Third, I think it’s ridiculous that police representatives are willing to suggest that funding the police service is the only way to improve community safety. Council increased the REACH Edmonton budget by $500,000 to fund Schools as Community Hubs and Out of School Time, for instance. They also approved $107,000 to fund the Green Shack program in 20 high needs communities. On the Capital Budget side, the High Level Bridge safety rail is the most obvious example. There’s a wide range of initiatives and projects that Council supported that will ultimately contribute to the health and safety of our community.

Fourth, let’s be real: many organizations in Edmonton contribute to the safety of the community in a very direct way, and they do it with far smaller budgets than the police service does. Look at the Edmonton Public Library for instance, which recently expanded its outreach program with Boyle Street Community Services to help those in need. I don’t see them “sloughing off” any work to the police.

About the only comment made by the police that is easy to agree with is the assertion that the Province needs to provide more funding to help deal with the pressures of growth and the unique challenges that come along with being a large city. But again, I call on the police to make their case with facts and data, rather than offhand comments in the media. Work with Council to build a solid case.

I think the police in Edmonton do great work in our city, but I’m disappointed with the way they play the game when it comes to budgets. Instead of facts, we get dire warnings. Instead of a can-do attitude, we get negativity and blaming. I think they can do better.

Coming up at City Council: December 15-19, 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

2015 Budgets

Yesterday, City Council approved both 2015 Operating and Utilities budgets, as well as the 2015-2018 Capital Budget. The Operating Budget average tax increase is 5.7%, of which 1.5% is still dedicated to the Neighbourhood Renewal Program. Here’s what the mayor said in the news release:

“This Budget demonstrates how the City of Edmonton works at improving our operations and finding more efficient ways to deliver on our commitments to Edmontonians,” said Mayor Iveson. “City managers have been committed to positive changes that create better value, ensuring maximum payoff for every taxpayer dollar.”

The Capital Budget will see investment of $4.3 billion in infrastructure throughout the city. Here are the mayor’s comments from the news release:

“The Capital Budget strikes a balance between investments in a growing city and the requirement to keep existing City assets in good repair,” said Mayor Iveson. “We’re building a great city for the people who live, work and play in Edmonton.”

Mayor Iveson also wrote a wrap-up blog post which defended the tax increase and called the budget a “value-for-money kind of budget”. He said it “makes responsible use of every dollar we’ve asked for.”

The budget was approved unanimously by City Council.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Council starts the week with a public hearing scheduled to take place all day. After the incredibly involved budget discussions, I’m sure all of Council will be happy to get back to business as usual!

There’s not much on the agenda that caught my eye, but here are a few things:

  • Bylaw 17023 proposed to close a portion of Winterburn Road (215 Street NW) to allow for the development of business and industrial uses in the area.
  • For those of you annoyed by such things, bylaw 17019 is a rezoning to allow for digital signs in Place LaRue near 184 Street and 100 Avenue.
  • Bylaw 17025 is for an amendment to the Stewart Greens NSP. Nothing major, and doesn’t result in any changes to the approved Land Use and Population Statistics.
  • Bylaw 17015 is an amendment to The Hamptons NSP and Bylaw 17016 would allow for the development of a medium rise apartment site (four apartment buildings with 364 total units and 88 townhouse units). Together these two bylaws increase the density of the site by enabling the development of additional apartment buildings in place of the townhouse units.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The LRT Governance Board will meet on Tuesday in the River Valley Room at City Hall. As a Committee of Council, I thought I’d include it here.

The main item is the LRT Governance Board’s semi-annual report. Here are the highlights:

  • The board met six times this year.
  • Five RFQ submissions were received and evaluated, resulting in a recommended shortlist of proponents for Stage 1 of the Valley Line LRT project.
  • The three shortlisted proponents were issued an RFP in September.
  • A public engagement plan was approved in July, including the “accountability, transparency, and disclosure framework.”
  • As a P3 project, the LRT Governance Board is tasked with ensuring the Valley Line LRT project delivers “long-term value for money, and cost and scheduled certainty.” So far, they are confident the project does indeed “demonstrate value for money as a P3 project.”
  • Also in September, the board approved the draft Project Agreement, which is the main contract between the City and the winning proponent that covers the 35 year period of design, construction, operations, maintenance, and financing for Stage 1 of the Valley Line LRT.

Also on the agenda is a verbal update on the Valley LRT Line project, as well as on the RFP activity. The LRT Governance Board is slated to meet five times in 2015, in March, May, July, August, and November.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Council’s final meeting of 2014 will take place on Wednesday, and there are some big items on the agenda.

Municipal Development Corporation Business Plan

The first report listed (though not yet available) is a business plan for the proposed for-profit municipal development corporation. This is a follow-up to the September 2014 meeting decision to proceed with the establishment of a municipal land corporation (you can see that report on options here). The business plan should include “a governance model, financial analysis, non-financial analysis, and a detailed implementation strategy for the establishment of a for-profit municipal development corporation.” Administration was also tasked with generating “a list of potential City-owned properties to be included in the initial transfer to the entity.”

Emerging Economy Initiative

This item was known until September as the “Economic Development – for Start-ups Initiative” until Council decided to change the name. The main update here is the draft terms of reference for this initiative, which “outlines the background and recommended future state for the five Council recommended small-business and entrepreneurship focused programs.” The five programs include:

  • New Canadian and Aboriginal Business Start-up Supports
  • “Make Something Edmonton” and “Edmonton Original” marketing strategies
  • TEC and Startup Edmonton mentoring and accelerating programs
  • Live Local and Local Economy Organizations
  • Corner Store Program

The City is meant to be a partner in this effort along with EEDC and the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. In some cases the City has provided seed money to these programs, in other cases the City indirectly funds them through contributions to parent organizations (like TEC and Startup Edmonton through EEDC).

Can I just say I really dislike how they include the dash in “start-up”! Seems unnecessary.

Bylaw 17001: Edmonton Downtown Academic and Cultural Centre Pedway Connection

This bylaw is ready for first reading and would authorize the City to borrow up to $22.5 million to build a pedway connection to the proposed EDACC (or Galleria as it is more popularly known). Because this is on Crown land, second and third reading would only take place after the Minister of Infrastructure has approved it. No valid petitions to this project were received.

The proposed pedway is an underground connection from Churchill LRT Station into the Station Lands through the new Royal Alberta Museum. The total cost of the project is $30 million, 25% of which will be financed by the City. The remaining $22.5 million will be financed “by way of local improvement assessment against the abutting property owners.” But this bylaw allows the City to borrow that money to complete the project, with the debt to be repaid over a period of 20 years.

The capital profile for the pedway justifies the project as follows:

“A significant factor of the Galleria project is the partnership with the University of Alberta. The establishment of an academic facility campus will bring more people to the downtown core every day, catalyzing services and development in and around the downtown area. The University participation is conditional upon connecting 104 Ave to the Churchill LRT Station via an underground Pedway.”

In terms of timing, it was argued that the pedway needed to be built now or a connection to the RAM would not be possible.

2015 Council and Committee Meeting Schedule

The schedule was approved back in October, but Council asked to hold their City Council meetings more consistently on Tuesdays (with a continuation on Wednesday mornings). This report changes a few of the meetings to better align with that schedule. So in general, Public Hearings take place on Mondays and Council meetings take place on Tuesdays.

Special Meeting on Public Engagement

The Council Initiative on Public Engagement is well underway, and a public event has been planned for January 24, 2015 to “discuss the vision for the Initiative.” Mark your calendars! In order to get aligned, a joint City Council and Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) facilitated session is being proposed for January 21, 2015.

Capital Region Board Appointments

Both Mayor Iveson and his alternate Councillor Gibbons are unavailable for the CRB meeting in January, so it is being proposed that Councillor Walters attend instead. Additionally, Council is looking to update its appointments to the CRB Subcommittees and Task Forces as follows:

  • Advocacy & Monitoring: Mayor Iveson, Councillor Gibbons as the alternate
  • Governance, Priorities & Finance: Councillor Walters, Councillor Gibbons as the alternate
  • Land Use & Planning: Councillor Gibbons, Councillor Walters as the alternate
  • Regional Services: Councillor Gibbons, Councilllor Walters as the alternate
  • Transit: Councillor Walters, Councillor Gibbons as the alternate
  • Growth Plan Update Task Force: Mayor Iveson, Councillor Gibbons as the alternate
  • Housing Task Force: Councillor Gibbons, Councillor Walters as the alternate

BRZ Budgets & Travel Grant Recommendations

Just when you thought Council was done with budgets, they’re right back it! On Wednesday they will approve the 2015 Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) budgets. There are 13 BRZs in Edmonton.

Council will also be discussing the latest Community Investment Program Travel Grant Program grant recommendations. This program is intended to support round trip travel from Edmonton for individuals working in the arts and festival communities. Grants of up to $750 per traveler can be awarded. A total of $21,600 is being recommended in travel grant funding to 27 individuals. The Edmonton Arts Council has recommended $82,240 in travel grant funding through the program in 2014.

Other

A series of updates from Council on Agency and Initiative appointments is being made available at this meeting. These include updates on work with AUMA, the ELEVATE initiative, the Urban Isolation/Mental Health initiative, Child Friendly Edmonton, and the Edmonton Women’s Initiative.

Council is being asked to approve expropriation of four properties for Stage 1 of the Valley Line LRT project: Property 1, Property 2, Property 3, Property 4.

There is one listed motion pending, from Councillor Knack, on electronic cigarettes.

Three private reports are listed:

  • Edmonton Business Revitalization Zones – 2015 Boards of Directors
  • Process and Timelines for City Manager and City Auditor 2014 Performance Evaluations
  • Reappointment Recommendation – Audit Committee Public Member

One report has been revised to March 2015 on Electrical Franchise Fee Charges as part of The Way We Finance.

Winter Recess

Following Wednesday’s meeting, Council will be on winter recess. They’ll resume on January 19, with Committee meetings on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday that week. A public hearing is slated for January 26, with the first City Council meeting of the year scheduled to take place on January 27.

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.

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.

Coming up at City Council: November 17-21, 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

A reminder that it’s budget time! If you want to dig into the 2015 budgets, check out this microsite that the City has launched. Also head over to the Edmonton subreddit at 12:30pm on Friday, November 14 for an AMA with CFO Lorna Rosen. City Council will be discussing the budget in detail from November 26 to December 10, with optional meetings scheduled for December 11 and 12 if they need more time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

On Monday, City Council is holding a public hearing. The usual bylaws to allow development will be discussed, but three include amendments to ARPs:

  • An amendment to the Strathcona Area Redevelopment Plan (bylaw 16988), a rezoning to allow for a five storey addition to the exist Crawford Block building (bylaw 16989), and a bylaw to designate the Crawford Block as a Municipal Historic Resource (bylaw 16916). You can learn more about the Crawford Block, which was built in 1912, at the Edmonton City as Museum Project.
  • Rezoning (bylaw 16992) and an amendment to the Boyle Street/McCauley Area Redevelopment Plan (bylaw 16991) to allow for a 4 storey mixed-use development. This is for the property at 9103 111 Avenue in McCauley.
  • Rezoning at 10505 106 Street in Central McDougall (bylaw 16852) and an amendment to the Central McDougall/Queen Mary Park Area Redevelopment Plan (bylaw 16851).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On Wednesday, Council will hold its final meeting before the budget meetings take place, which means there is just one “normal” Council meeting left for 2014 (on December 17). Items on the agenda next week include:

Corporate Measures and Targets Follow-up

With this item, Administration is recommending 26 measures and targets for the 12 outcomes in The Way Ahead. There are both new and revised measures and targets compared to the 23 provisionally approved in June, based on feedback from Council. You can learn more about the 12 outcomes here.

The measures are things like “% of new residential units in mature areas”, “transit ridership per capita”, “ecological footprint in hecatre/capita”, or “City of Edmonton credit rating”. Each measure has a corresponding target and measurement frequency. The idea is to provide Council with information to aid in their decision-making. These aren’t the only things the City measures of course, as the report says the City tracks “hundreds of different types of performance measures.”

None of the recommended targets go beyond 2018 because that’s the end date of the current The Way Ahead. Once approved, an updated document will be made available, and Administration will begin to report back to Council on the outcome measures and targets.

Approval of Expropriation for the Southeast to West LRT (Valley Line) Stage 1, Phase 2

Administration is recommending that Council approve the expropriation of land required for the Valley Line LRT under the Expropriation Act. This approval will enable them to proceed with finalizing the expropriations, which needs to happen before construction can begin.

There are 17 properties being expropriated. Some are located near five corners in The Quarters, some are near Cloverdale Road and Strathearn Drive, some are along 83 Street between 76 Avenue and 77 Avenue, and some are further south. The largest property is #10 which is about 0.519 ha and is currently a parking lot owned by the Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre. Seven of the properties are residences.

Construction of the Valley Line LRT is scheduled to begin in 2016, with preparation of the lands required continuing through 2015.

Committee Recommendations

There’s also approval of recommendations made from the Utility Committee, Executive Committee, and Community Services Committee, including:

Some other items that Council will be looking at include:

  • Edmonton Police Commission – Interviews and Appointment
  • Terms of Reference – Commonwealth Games Bid Oversight Committee
  • Jerry Forbes Centre Multi-tenant Project Update

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.