Council approves increase to $10.4B capital budget to build housing, renew roads and fix facilities

Budget adjustments include the Imagine Jasper renewal project, supportive housing projects and solar panels at the Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage. (Cort Sloan/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton's 2023-2026 capital budget is going up by $263 million to build more housing, renew neighbourhoods and rehabilitate roads and city facilities.

City council unanimously approved increases to the four-year, $10.4-billion budget at a meeting Tuesday.

The capital increases do not directly affect the property tax levy, said Stacey Padbury, the city's chief financial officer.

Budget adjustments are part of the standard practice every spring and fall in the city's operating and capital budgets, as costs, markets, conditions and projects change.

The operating budget was amended in April when council approved an 8.9-per-cent property tax increase.

About $170 million of the capital budget increase is from the federal Housing Accelerator Fund, with which the city is expected to build nearly 5,300 new units by 2026.

The money comes directly from the federal government after the city does the leg work to prepare for new housing construction.

Ward papastew Coun. Michael Janz described the adjustment as an investment in housing, jobs and infrastructure renewal.

"To me, the housing accelerator fund is not just about bedrooms," Janz said during the meeting. "It's also about a catalytic transformation — a springboard to new housing opportunities that have more transportation choices, that are in better locations where we're building in and up, not out.

"I think where we put this funding will literally shape our city."

Other projects in the budget adjustment include $11.5 million to rehabilitate Fire Station 7 in the Highlands neighbourhood, $5.9 million for a solar photovoltaic and battery energy storage system at the Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage and $4.8 million to renew the artificial turf at Clarke Stadium.

The city is also asking for $8 million more for the Imagine Jasper Avenue rehabilitation between 114th Street and 124th Street.

New projects include $28 million to build up to 63 supportive living units in the Canora neighbourhood and $16 million for 34 supportive living units in the Garneau neighbourhood.

Ward pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell said the city could provide more information to better understand the decisions.

He supports directing more money to renew existing facilities and infrastructure, pointing to the unexpected water main break in Calgary as an unwanted scenario.

"When you don't put as many dollars into maintenance and renewal than you ought, then the surprises are more likely to come and surprises can be real killers," he said.

"It might be a trade-off between, 'is it more solar panels on the roof of the transit garage?' or is it, 'make sure that the pipe isn't going to cave in?' "

Capital Line LRT extension

The increase in the capital budget doesn't include an estimated $242 million hike in the 4.5-kilometre Capital Line LRT extension from Century Park to Ellerslie Road.

Council approved the increase in a private session at a May 22 meeting. It's now being asked to approve the bylaw that would allow the city to borrow the money.

"We have already spent $70 million preparing for this project," Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told news media Tuesday.

The project now totals $1.34 billion, up from $1.10 billion.

Not moving ahead would mean losing money from the federal and provincial governments, who are funding 55 per cent of the project, Sohi said.

The city selected its preferred bidder to design and build Phase 1 of the extension, consisting of team members Ledcor and AECOM.

The project went to market in 2022, and the city said it was negotiating with the preferred bidder.

The cost overruns are troubling, said Civic Service Union 52 president Lanny Chudyk, in a news release sent Tuesday.

"I call on city council to conduct a thorough review of the LRT project's budget management and to engage in open dialogue with the public about how these funds will be accounted for moving forward," Chudyk said in the release.

"It is imperative that we learn from this situation to improve our budgeting processes and uphold the highest standards of fiscal responsibility."

Council is set to discuss the Capital Line extension on Wednesday.