This has been an extremely busy year. We have seen the implementation of the bus network redesign, changes in residential speed limits and the implementation of the cart rollout. Many of these changes have impacted our daily lives, and many of us are continuing to adjust to these changes. I am confident that with your input and feedback, we can make the tweaks and improvements necessary to provide the services we all depend on.
A continuing backdrop to our daily lives is the Covid pandemic and the uncertainty of constantly changing case numbers and infection rates, restrictions, and vaccination requirements. City Council and City Administration continue to try to balance the need to support all persons in Edmonton, while at the same time, minimizing the financial impact to taxpayers. We realize the challenge of operating our transit system and recreation centres, as examples, in the face of significantly reduced revenues, while at the same time, remembering just how vital these services are to many Edmontonians. Achieving this balance will continue to be my goal going forward.
I want to thank you again for granting me the privilege of representing ward pihêsiwin in the recent election. I really enjoy this role, and I am both humbled and thrilled with the opportunity to continue in it.
During the election, I heard loud and clear that you want improvement to the basic services that the City is supposed to provide. Provide the support that our most vulnerable need. Do a better job of maintaining our City - cut the grass in the summer, and plow the roads in the winter. Get drivers to slow down and respect the community when travelling on residential roads. Provide small scale recreation amenities - skating rinks, splash pads, arenas, swimming pools and libraries - particularly in the newer communities to the south. Make sure the transit system is safe, secure, reliable, fast and cost effective.
With these collective goals in mind, following is a brief summary of Council decisions since the election.
City Council wrapped up several weeks of budget discussions on Friday December 17th. Here are some of the key takeaways from this approved budget.
During the Operating Budget Amendments, Council voted in favor (8-5) of decreasing the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) budget by $10.9 million starting in 2022. I voted against this motion. Let me explain why.
On the campaign trail this year, residents in pihêsiwin told me they wanted to see an increase in police presence. I heard about disorderly behavior, theft in the neighborhoods, loud speeding vehicles and concerns about the safety of our transit system. Southwest residents continue to see a need for more support from EPS.
There is no doubt that the amount of money that we put into the social services ecosystem, which includes the EPS, needs to accomplish far more than it does now. As a City, as a society, we need to get more for those dollars. For all the money we put in, we should see the situation improving, not worsening.
And there is no question we need to match resources to demand - to ensure the right person is responding to the call for help. EPS themselves agree that they are not always the best agency to respond. But they are still the only 24 /7 / 365 agency we have. Until we have a better plan, until more resources make themselves available around the clock, EPS will continue to be the first responders we rely on.
Still, we need to put the dollars with the agencies and organizations that can have the greatest effect, and that will mean lower police budgets in the future. To accomplish this evolution, City Council has more discussions scheduled in 2022 than I can outline here. Discussions aimed at creating a new social services model - with EPS, with other agencies and organizations, with our citizens, with vulnerable and racialized persons - that will achieve much better outcomes.
During budget deliberations, my suggestion was that we leave the EPS budget alone in 2022 and apply an $11.9M EPS budget reduction starting in 2023. That we take 2022 to build a plan, and put the police on notice that their budget would be reduced.
My suggestion was not accepted by my peers. Instead, they chose to reduce the 2022 police budget by almost $11M (a total of $22M in reductions since June 2020). EPS now has until January 1 to figure out a new plan to meet this reduction. They are forced to react, instead of proactively planning.
Conversely, Council has no firm plans for how to spend the money they took from the police. The City is now holding 14.4M of taxpayer money intended to fund police activities, that EPS had firm plans for, that would have continued the work of evolving into a modern day Police Service focused on community safety and well-being.
This motion and the discussion around it seemed to come from a place of placing the blame for all of society’s deficiencies at the feet of the police. It felt punitive. It felt adversarial. It seemed to carry an undertone of condescension.
Holding taxpayer money with no firm plan on how to spend it is wrong. Ultimately, this motion was not good governance, so I did not support it.
Ambleside Snow and Ice Facility
A key objective for me continues to be more efficient snow removal. During budget deliberations, I brought forward a Motion to fund a Snow and Ice operational Yard in Ambleside. Council passed this motion unanimously, which means we will see the design and construction of this yard start immediately. That means quicker, more efficient snow removal in the Southwest.
Council also passed a motion for a pilot project for enhanced snow clearing of residential roads including blading down to pavement and increased sanding. You should see much better road conditions in your neighborhood for the rest of the winter.
In response to campaign feedback, I brought forward a motion to add one trimming cycle to the turf maintenance budget. Currently, City Operations mows most areas every 10 days or so, and every 7 days in May and June. But the trimming only happens once a year. With this change, we will see two trimming cycles in 2022. There is further discussion to be had.
We will also see a significant engagement effort from the City regarding the potential naturalization of the spaces around storm drainage ponds. This engagement will take place fairly early in the new year - please stay tuned for more details. This will be your chance to make your views heard regarding the care and maintenance of all of our open spaces, including the frequency of mowing and trimming.
Council did approve construction of the Coronation and Lewis Farms recreation centres. Both of these projects were approved long ago, with construction delayed for several years each. Approval to proceed to construction will see the last of the “mega” recreation centres, and a different approach to recreation centres in the future.
I heard from many people, particularly in the newer neighborhoods to the south, that they want to see opportunities for their children to have the amenities other neighborhoods have. Amenities like arenas, libraries, fitness centres, outdoor skating rinks and basketball courts, splash pads and skateboard facilities. Approval of these last two recreation commitments to other parts of Edmonton clears the way to have the discussion to support small scale recreation alternatives like these.
Several other relatively modest changes were made to the 2022 Operating Budget. Council added more resources to address concerns regarding vulnerable persons in Edmonton, primarily in the core. We added one year of support to Free Play for All, a program for youth that offers mentored sports activities for vulnerable youth. Alphonzo Davies is a former participant of this program. We extended the sponsorship agreement with the Canadian National Women’s Basketball Team. And we added one more year of support to our Business Improvement Areas, to aid local business owners that have suffered considerable financial challenges during the Covid pandemic.
Ultimately, Council arrived at a tax levy increase of 1.91% for 2022. The increase is made up of a 1.45% for municipal services, 0.06% increase for Edmonton Police Service, 0.3% for the alley renewal program, and 0.1% for the Valley Line LRT. The average Edmonton household will pay approximately $15 more in property taxes for every $100,000 of their assessed home value in 2022.
How this tax levy increase affects individual property owners will depend on their property’s assessed value. The City will send out 2022 property assessments in January, and you are strongly encouraged to review this notice carefully. The time to file any objections regarding property value assessment is with receipt of this January notice, NOT in June when you receive your actual tax invoice. Please contact my office if you have any questions.
Terwillegar Drive Construction Work
We have seen progress in the first year of upgrades to Terwillegar Drive. Construction started in 2021 and will continue for the next 3-4 years. Much of this work is listed out on the City of Edmonton’s website however I have summarized the timelines below:
- Stage One, 2021- 2023: Terwillegar Drive between Anthony Henday Drive and Whitemud Drive;
- Stage Two, 2023 - 2025: Whitemud Drive/Terwillegar Drive interchange, Rainbow Valley Bridges, dedicated southbound bus lane from 53rd Avenue to 40th Avenue, and the pedestrian bridge from Bookview to Brookside;
- Stage Three 2023 - 2026: Anthony Henday Drive/Terwillegar Drive interchange
In 2021 we saw construction start on the addition of two lanes from Whitemud Drive to Rabbit Hill Road. 2022 will see completion of this work, and the start of the lane additions from Rabbit Hill Road to Haddow Drive. We will also see the completion of the shared use trail on the east boulevard, from Haddow Drive to 40th Avenue.
To stay up to date on progress on Terwillegar Drive expansion, I encourage you to sign up for updates by clicking here.
What’s to Come in 2022
With so much change in 2021, major program changes are not anticipated in 2022. But I do see a lot of refinement to the changes we have seen recently.
We need to tweak, refine and improve our waste collection, and continue the changes in how we process and manage that waste. That will include a strategy for collection from apartment and condominium buildings. We should also talk about different bin sizes for different rates, and a mid-summer yard waste pick-up.
We will review the new bus network, and hopefully fix the problems the new routes have created. We will see the continued development of a regional transit system, of a new fare card program, and a review of the On-Demand pilot.
We will continue to have many discussions about how to support our most vulnerable residents, and we will have those police related discussions I mentioned above.
I want to return to those discussions we started on your doorstep. Creating safer streets in front of your homes, which means different things in different places. Better care of our open spaces. Better maintenance of your roads, in summer and in winter. And the evolution of our neighborhoods to the 15-minute communities that our City Plan talks about, where we can find entertainment, education, employment, entertainment and recreation within a 15 minute trip from your front door.
And I really hope we will start talking about a return to a life without Covid restrictions. A return of our city festivals. Entry into our facilities that don’t require a face covering and an appointment. Sharing time on our restaurant patios. Enjoying a concert. Gathering for a wedding or anniversary party. We have come this far, largely together, and my sincere wish for all of you is the end of this pandemic and all the challenges it has brought.
And Finally ...
My office will be closed for the holidays. If you have an urgent City concern, please call the City’s Service Centre at 311.
This holiday season is a joyous time for most of us, but it can also be a challenging time for some. I encourage you to connect with a friend or relative over the holidays. So often that simple effort of calling just to chat for a few minutes can make all the difference. Let’s take care of one another, take the joy that we feel in our own fortunate lives and pay it forward.
If you or someone you know is struggling and needs help, access to resources or just someone to listen, please call or text the Canadian Mental Health Association’s 24/7 information and referral line at 211. See here for more information about this fantastic community resource.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful and prosperous New Year! See you in 2022!
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