Adjusting the Plan Posted on December 5, 2016 by Miranda Jimmy This week, City Council will debate the Operating and Capital Budget adjustments to the 2016-2018 Budgets for the City of Edmonton. The adjustments were introduced last week at the Council Meeting and will be debated publically after this Thursday’s Public Hearing. This process is new for Council as this is the first time the City has used multi-year budgeting for the operation costs of our city. What does this mean and why was this decision made? To explain, I’ll share with you my understanding of the process. First, let’s back up a couple of years. Prior to 2014, new members of City Council had to jump right into their work. After being sworn-in during the last week of October, they had to go right into budget for the following year – a daunting task for anyone who is brand new to the job. Typically budgets for the following year are presented to City Council in the third week of November then debated and approved in early December. This happened after the 2013 election, as in other election cycles, and the six new councillors found the steep learning curve and tight timelines for producing a budget challenging. So, in 2014, City Council decided to change this process and try multi-year budgeting for Operations and Utilities, as they had already been doing for the Capital Budget. This would move the budgeting process into alignment with the City Council terms and allow Council members to have a full year on the job before having to understand and approve budgets for the city. That brings us to last fall when the current City Council reviewed, debated, and approved the budgets for 2016-2018. Although these are multi-year budgets, they are created so that each year budgets can be adjusted to account for changes that have occurred and respond to emerging expenses that were not planned for. We are now one year into these multi-year budgets and adjustments need to be made. On November 18, 2016 the City of Edmonton publicly released the Supplemental Operating Budget Adjustment. The adjustment consists of an update on spending in 2016, identified efficiencies at the City, and the request for nearly 30 unfunded projects to be considered by City Council for 2017. I have been paying extra attention to the budget process this year for two reasons. On a personal level, I am interested to see how City Council will debate annual budget adjustments. When the multi-year budget was approved, how exactly this will be done was not clear, and this will be the first year that they will debate adjustments to the multi-year Operating Budget. I am also watching the process closely from a professional perspective. My employer, the Edmonton Heritage Council, has an unfunded package request to City Council for funding in 2017 for the development of a City Museum. For these two reasons, I will be attending the debates and presentations in person and hope to see Council Chambers packed with engaged residents. As part of the multi-year budget process, City Council planned for $5,000,000 to be set aside annually for emerging issues and to prevent impacts to planned tax increases over the three-year cycle. For 2017, there are 29 projects requesting over $11 Million dollars in operating funding. This means that City Council will need to make some important decisions as part of the debate beginning Thursday. They could: (A) Decide to not fund any of the projects and reduce the planned 3.1% tax increase by the $5 Million to 2.7% for 2017 going into an election year. (B) Decide to fund some of the requests and keep the new funded projects within the $5 Million they had planned to spend in 2017 and keep the tax increase at 3.1%. (C) Decide to fund several or all of the requested projects spending more than the $5 Million they planned on spending and increase the 2017 property taxes past the planned 3.1%. My guess is that they will likely end up choosing option A or B but it will all depend on which projects are selected for debate and how supportive each of the members of City Council are of them. Looking at the different options and the requests for funding, what decision would you make? The budget is one of the most important decisions our City Council makes annually and as residents, we see the direct impact of their decision in our property taxes. If you have an opinion, I encourage you to make your voice heard at the upcoming budget public hearing. Read up on the proposed budget adjustments and then sign-up to speak directly to City Council on the issues that matter to you most. If you can’t make it to City Hall in-person for the budget process, you can always watch online and share your thoughts on twitter using the hashtag #yegbudget.