In late September, I launched a survey on the 2019 – 2022 Capital and Operating Budget with the intention of hearing what the community wants prioritized. Thank you to the over 200 Edmontonians who took time to contribute your thoughts! All Edmontonians were invited to fill out the survey, but I was not surprised to see a strong majority identify that they live in Ward 1. Interestingly, approximately 30% of the survey respondents identified as business owners in Edmonton. I am happy to see the business community engaged in the budget process, as they are important economic drivers in our communities and are affected both personally and professionally by government budgets.
Of the 221 respondents, over 60% identified that they considered themselves somewhat knowledgeable on the budget, with limited understanding trailing behind at 27%, very knowledgeable at 10%, and no knowledge at all with a modest 3%. This understanding of budgeting process was apparent in the thoughtful and constructive feedback I received.
The first question in the budget asked readers to identify which statement they agreed most with.
- 40% of respondents chose “Tax increase up to inflation (approximately 3%) and small increases to services and/or infrastructure funding.”
- 35% chose No tax increase (0%) and small cuts to service and/or infrastructure funding.
- 9% chose Tax decrease and significant cuts to service and/or infrastructure funding.
- 8% choose Higher tax increase (3%+) and significant increases to services and/or infrastructure funding.
- 8% said other. The primary comments from other suggested keeping taxes and spending low.
I was not surprised to hear most Edmontonians choose no tax increase or a modest tax increase. Making sure Edmontonians tax dollars are being used in the most efficient way possible is one of the main reasons I put forward a motion ahead of our recent budget deliberations to examine what programs and/or services could be changed, reduced, or removed. You can read more about this motion and my efforts to find savings in my previous blog post.
The next question asked respondents to identify the top three priorities for funding in the operating budget out of a list of 15 suggested options, the top three selected were road maintenance, lower property taxes, and fire rescue/policing. The bottom three priorities selected for the operating budget were public engagement and communications, city governance, and lower property taxes. I am pleased that these priorities align with the budget which City of Edmonton administration has proposed, with road maintenance and fire/police service proposed to receive far more than something like city governance. What is less clear is lowering property taxes being identified by respondents as one of the most and least important priorities. From reading the long form responses, it becomes apparent that the vast majority of Edmontonians are comfortable with maintaining the tax rate or a small increase as long as it is determined necessary after looking at all saving and efficiencies, and is being used to provide essential services and infrastructure.
The next question asked the same prioritization ranking of the capital budget. This identified widening roads, the Lewis Farms recreation centre/library, and LRT as the top three priorities. It also identified industrial area upgrading, intersection upgrades, and back alley renewal as the bottom three priorities. It is important to note that just because something is listed as a bottom priority does not mean that it is not worthy of public investment. Projects like upgrading the Winterburn Industrial area might not affect the majority of the population, but would make a critical impact for those working in the area. Going further, businesses in Winterburn industrial contribute a significant amount of tax revenue to the City of Edmonton and should receive baseline services. This is an example of the difficult prioritization process city councillors go through, where there are much more worthy investments than there is capital to fund them. If City Council was to fund all services and infrastructure that was proposed by administration, it would be a significant tax increase. In order to maintain a modest tax increase, we will have to make difficult decisions on what is needed now versus what can wait for the future.
Lastly, I want to highlight the long answer feedback that we have received in the survey, as well as some themes that emerged through the numerous calls, emails, and in person meetings I’ve had with constituents. Unsurprisingly, the most recurring feedback from the survey was the suggestion that the Lewis Farms Recreation Centre and Library needs to be built. For those of you that are not familiar with the project, the west end of Edmonton is the only quadrant of the city that does not have a recreation centre to service the needs of a growing population. This project has undergone review, design, and extensive consultation over the past few years and is up for debate during this budget cycle.
Other common themes included the necessity for the City of Edmonton to find efficiencies, the importance of listening to the business community, and the increasing need for density as a cost saving mechanism.
Interestingly, support for public transportation including LRT expansion, was divided. LRT expansion is one of the biggest investments the City of Edmonton is planning on making over the next decade, and I can understand why the price tag on those items can seem intimidating. That being said, in order for Edmonton to continue on it’s path of becoming an accessible and modern global city, I believe our investment in public transportation expansion is justified. Another divided topic surrounds the Edmonton Police Service budget. While public safety is and always should be a top priority for our city, we need to analyze how to accomplish this with an appropriate amount of investment. Currently, the proposed budget for Edmonton Police is intended to go up almost 25% over the next four years. I am interested to see if we can accomplish the same goals with a more reasonable budget increase. The other main themes which came from the survey was the need to support seniors, maintain current infrastructure, and have strong coordination with other levels of government.
During the budget process, and all city business, I am always looking for engaging ways to gather the perspectives of residents of Ward 1, business leaders, and everyday Edmontonians. I greatly appreciate everyone who took the time to give thoughtful and constructive feedback through my survey, by calling in, or emailing. Over the next few weeks Edmonton’s City Council will be making tough decisions on what services and infrastructure warrants investment, and I hope to report back soon with some exciting new approved proposals which will make Edmonton a better place to work and live.
Written by A. Knack and M. Banister.