It was a tumultuous 2019 for the City of Edmonton who dealt with issues from climate change, infrastructure repair, and budget shortfalls.
Those were some of the things Mayor Don Iveson touched on in his year-end interview with CTV News.
A SURPRISING BUDGET
Iveson said that since the provincial budget was released so late in the year, Oct. 24, the city didn’t have much time deal with funding shortfall, but it didn’t want to raise taxes significantly.
“The tax levy would have moved up from 2.6 to 4.3 to cover off (existing projects) so for us to keep it at 2.6, which was my first objective, was already fairly significant, it was I think $27-million of cost containment,” said Iveson.
The budget cuts left the city with a $200-million shortfall, meaning the city had to make many cuts, including some to major infrastructure projects like the $320-million Lewis Farms Rec Centre.
“I know that doesn’t satisfy everyone but I’ve been quite clear that my policy is not to over-correct fiscally it’s to course-correct fiscally and I think that’s what we did.”
Iveson says that Edmontonians shouldn’t worry about the budget having a large effect on front-line services even though demands for those services tend to increase in an economic downturn.
“We haven’t cut back on front-line policing, we haven’t cut back on snow plowing, we actually put a bit of money back into transit that had been slated to come out last year.”
He said many of the changes and tweaks to those services actually came about because of the Program and Service Review rather than the provincial budget.
Iveson also pointed out that the tax increase was the lowest in two decades, only beat by the 0 per cent increase in 1997.
THE PROJECTS MUST GO ON
Some projects like the Blatchford development and the Valley line LRT are continuing as planned.
Iveson said the city learned from the many problems with the Metro line and is pledging the completion of the Valley Line will go smoother.
“We’ve designed a contract that incents them to build it safely, as fast as possible and get it open as quickly as possible. It’s $3-million a month roughly they forego for every month that it’s not open.”
Unexpected construction obstacles have put the project six months behind schedule, but Iveson believes it will be ready in 2021.
The problems of the Metro line are still being worked through, including ongoing litigation with the company that provided the initial signalling system.
“Our litigation with them will continue, to attempt to recover everything we can for the value that we didn’t receive.”
CONCERN OVER CLIMATE
The green Blatchford development gained more significance when the city declared a climate emergency in August and the city says people could be set to move in as soon as February 2020.
“We absolutely need to figure out how to be relevant as the world changes its energy mix in response to the scientific imperative and increasingly the call from youth and the streets to take this issue seriously.”
Greta Thunberg, the teenaged Swedish climate activist, visited Edmonton in October and drew thousands to the Alberta Legislature for a climate march and protest.
Climate change has been a growing concern for many but even after the provincial government removed the carbon tax, Iveson believes that there has been climate action from all levels of government.
“In my time working on this file, I've gone from hope to despair and back a couple of times and right now I'm actually in a very hopeful place.”
LOOKING TO A NEW DECADE
There will be another municipal election in 2021 but Iveson still has things to think about before he commits to running again.
“Lots of people are asking me what I'm going to do in 2021, lots of people are making plans for me too, and I appreciate all the suggestions, I haven't actually decided what I'm going to do yet.”
Before that though there is the whole of 2020 and Iveson says there will be plenty to do in that time.
“The region is going to look at a regional transit commission which can only help further advance the gains we’re going to make through the bus network reorganization. A lot of big transit moves are coming next year.”
“A lot of big planning decisions that are going to chart the course for the next 30 plus years are going to happen in 2020.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson