Chamber of Commerce urges Edmonton council to drop tax increase

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Chamber of Commerce urges Edmonton council to drop tax increase

Edmonton city council is facing tough decisions this week as councillors debate the 2018 budget. While considering hundreds of items for approval, councillors are also getting pressure to drop the proposed property tax increase.

On Wednesday, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president Janet Riopel urged council to cut the suggested 3.6 per cent increase to three per cent.

Riopel said a three-per-cent hike would be in line with the rate of inflation plus population growth.

"Businesses and families are still really hurting," she said after a city hall meeting Wednesday. "This business climate is not improving."

The economic forecast is not as rosy as the projections, she said. 

" 'Modest' would probably be the most positive word that we could use for the growth for most businesses in the capital region," she said.

Soon after Riopel made her request, the city's chief financial officer, Todd Burge, told council the city has an unprojected $7.7 million in savings to work with.

That comes from the provincial government approving a one-per-cent decrease in the amount the city contributes to employee pension plans.

With that savings, the property tax increase could be limited to 3.1 per cent.

Mayor Don Iveson noted that staff working on the operating budget have "done a phenomenal job at grinding it down by more than a point and a half since the previous estimates."

In April, the property tax increase was expected to be 5.0 per cent. It was re-evaluated this fall.

"Now what we'd have to do at this point in the budget cycle is say, 'OK, we're going to postpone some neighbourhood renewal, we're going to start falling behind on roadway maintenance,' " Iveson said.

He said the city could look at cutting things like police service levels and the investment in the Valley Line LRT, but the city has contracts in place.

"A lot of things are baked into the budget."

Dozens of groups spoke before council on Wednesday to ask for funding for 2018.

Edmonton Meals on Wheels asked for one-time funding of $250,000 to continue supporting 14,000 clients, ahead of applying for longer-term funding in 2019.

"The language of food is powerful because it's every person's common denominator," Liz Tondu with Meals of Wheels told councillors.

Rod Macleod, president of the Alberta Aviation Museum Association, said his group needs $4.3 million to renovate its historic hangar on Kingsway at the former city centre airport

Council will debate the budget throughout the week.