By Mayor Don Iveson
Whether we’re buying a new treadmill or a box of oranges, we inevitably ask ourselves the same question: is it worth what I’m paying?
Just before budget deliberations, Edmonton’s Insight Community (sign up to take part) surveyed Edmontonians and asked them the same kind of question: do you get good value for the property tax dollars you pay?
The result was overwhelmingly yes.
Of the 800 respondents, 84% said they received fair value or better for the taxes they pay. As I reflect on the 2015 Budget and its 5.7% tax increase, I’d say this is a ‘value-for-money’ kind of budget, the kind that makes responsible use of every dollar we’ve asked for. The budget’s unanimous support at Council speaks to that, as does the work Council and city staff did to embrace innovation, produce efficiencies and achieve cost avoidance.
Putting the increase in context, when it’s all said and done, we’re asking each typical household to spend an average of $119 more each year to help pay for:
- 62 more police officers
- two new fire halls
- more transit during peak hours to fast-growing new neighbourhoods
- starting work towards a new recreation centre in West Edmonton
- $800 million in local and main streets renewal
- a long-overdue overhaul on the Stanley Milner library on Churchill Square, facelift included
- improved snow clearing, including more windrow removal – particularly around schools
- an accelerator program to kickstart economic development in health innovation
- a new LRT line connecting southeast and downtown Edmonton
- and, on your utility bill for a dollar more a month, accelerated sewer upgrades to reduce flood risk
Of course, there are hard decisions within every budget discussion, especially around what an ‘acceptable’ tax increase looks like. It’s the ultimate exercise in tradeoffs to make sure we are both servicing the things we’ve already built, and building the things we need to keep up with being Canada’s fastest-growing major city. But almost every item in this year’s budget is something that will serve you, as an Edmontonian, better – now and into the future. From the staff working in our recreation centres to more fire prevention inspectors, this is about building the kind of safe and livable city Edmontonians have asked for.
In my time on Council I’ve come to learn that we scrutinize where our property tax dollars go much more closely than where our income taxes go. I’m glad for the scrutiny on our ledger, but it arises more from how you pay than how much you pay. Think about it, we all pay property tax with after-(income)-tax dollars from our bank account. We all notice it. Most people couldn’t tell you how much income tax they get taken off their paycheque, or how much GST they pay in a given year. And yet, citizens in Edmonton are generally satisfied with the value they get for their investment in our community – and they’ll see more value with better roads and good public services. I sincerely believe the City delivers good value for the taxes we pay, and Council governs this in the most transparent way possible. All of our budget debates are public and the evidence that builds around the case for each expenditure is scrutinized in public throughout the year. And when things go awry, we work hard with one of the best City Auditors in the country to catch it, fix it, and learn from it. All this public work draws scrutiny, but that’s a good thing.
If you’ve heard one of my speeches, you’ve probably heard me say that only 8¢ of every tax dollar you offer up – municipal, provincial and federal combined – actually comes directly to Edmonton in the form of property taxes. We do receive grants out of the other 92¢, but these grants are too often inconsistent in both timing and value, and thus are not the kind of stable, predictable flow of funds needed to plan and build great communities. While our City Charter discussions with the province aim to correct this, and hopefully will allow us to be less reliant on property taxes in the future, I can say that we make your 8¢ work very, very hard.