Edmonton city council says climate inaction 'costly,' proposes 3.9% tax hike during inflation crisis

Edmonton anticipates a $67.8 million surplus for 2022, and it remains to be seen what councillors will do with the money.Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is convinced that funding climate action is the best use of taxpayer funds amid high inflation, alongside affordable housing and expanding the city's industrial tax base.

Edmonton city council says climate inaction 'costly,' proposes 3.9% tax hike during inflation crisis
The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld
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On August 27, 2019, Edmonton's city council declared a climate emergency, proposing the “Climate Action and Energy Transition” to make the city carbon neutral by 2050.

The world faces a "climate crisis," with Edmonton among the most to lose, says the 2023-2026 Carbon Budget, the first of its kind for Alberta's second-largest city. Per the Economic Analysis of Edmonton's Climate Risks Report, further inaction costs the city's taxpayers billions of dollars.

Changing temperature, precipitation patterns and extreme weather events will supposedly wreak havoc on infrastructure, economy, public health and safety.

That's the rationale for transitioning Edmonton to 100% decarbonized energy to tackle climate change, as are funding emission-neutral buildings, low-carbon transportation and carbon capture technologies.

In a statement to True North, Common Sense spokesperson Will Vishloff said, “This plan proves that the City doesn't understand how the federal carbon tax works, that they don't believe that the federal carbon tax works at all or both.”

Though Edmonton has commenced 90% of its Phase One actions already, Vishloff argues the city should not be creating climate budgets, owing to the federal government's carbon tax.

“This document is a massive waste of time, resources, and taxpayer money,” he said.

Council weighed close to 400 budget requests, with 270 having direct greenhouse gas emissions impacts, of which only 60 were measurable.

For example, a proposed LRT extension would reduce emissions by 23,700 tonnes and cost $2.4 billion. The Edmonton EXPO Centre rehabilitation project would cost $61.1 million, resulting in 3,000 tonnes of GHG emissions reductions.

Supposedly, the city is in Phase Two of its Community Energy Transition Strategy, where it intends to “accelerate” significant emissions reductions from 2005 baseline levels.

But how will council fund their efforts to save taxpayers from the climate apocalypse while balancing the budget? That means higher property taxes are on the way during economic uncertainty and rising costs caused by out-of-control pandemic spending.

The city proposed a 3.9% increase in taxes annually for the next four years to keep service levels on par with the last few years. The result? A household would pay approximately $718 for every $100,000 of their assessed home value in 2023 — a $27 hike from 2022.

While Sohi committed to funding Edmontonians' “top priorities,” fellow Coun. Tim Cartmell said utilizing the surplus will be a “balancing act.”

Though he stressed the city must not get carried away, Cartmell pledged city council would spend the money one way or another.

“If you find yourself with more money in your bank account at the end of the year than you had, that doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to Disney World,” said Cartmell. “That means you have to think about how much more money you will spend on groceries next year.

“You don't necessarily take out a mortgage payment that will cost you money every year for 25 years after that.”

According to its operating financial update report, the city found $20.5 million in cost savings from unfilled job vacancies to help balance the budget and minimize the tax hike below the inflation rate.

Council considered raising revenue for services like transit and recreation facilities but acknowledged people might be unable to afford the increased rates.

Cartmell proposed the nearly $68 million surplus be used to fund one-time projects.

“One of those things might be one-time investments in housing,” he said. “We discussed the West Jasper Place shelter funding for six months a couple of days ago. That would be a one-time thing. Maybe it could find its way to housing, but it could only find its way to one-time, single-opportunity housing initiatives,” continued Cartmell.

His fellow Coun. Keren Tang said they intend to look closely at the upcoming budget and prioritize unfunded projects per what residents want. “How do you split that among these top priorities is the question,” she said.

“The housing priority, for example, the $91 million required to go into our affordable housing investment program — this only gets us so far.”

Tang said allocating funds from this year's surplus is “a drop in the bucket” in the grand scheme of things for a $3.2 billion budget but admitted, “it still helps.”

Tang urged her colleagues to continue with some financial strategies that provided taxpayers with the surplus, including $41 million from managing fluctuations in fuel and utility costs, among other items.

“We can't let our guards down in terms of continuing to be fiscally prudent.”

The city began its round of public consultations on budget deliberations today and will continue to hear from speakers until the end of Tuesday.

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