About 170 speakers sign up to offer wishlists for Edmonton budget during public hearing

The City of Edmonton is holding a public hearing into the 2023-26 budgets this Monday through Wednesday. (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)
The City of Edmonton is holding a public hearing into the 2023-26 budgets this Monday through Wednesday. (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)

About 170 people and organizations have signed up to give their input to Edmonton city council for the 2023-26 capital and operating budgets.

A non-statutory public hearing got underway at city hall on Monday. The hearing is required before city council begins deliberating the budgets on Thursday, at which time city councillors can start making motions to alter, add or remove items.

Administration is proposing a $3.2 billion operating budget for 2023 and a $7.75 billion capital budget over four years.

On Monday, council heard a range of requests for funding, including investing more in climate change programs, improving the Edmonton Valley Zoo, and increasing public transit service.

Lewis Farms rec centre

The long-awaited Lewis Farms Recreation Centre, now pegged at $370 million, could be at risk of getting shelved.

Coun. Michael Janz said Monday he will propose a motion to eliminate the facility from the capital budget.

Administration is recommending the original design be reduced by $57.9 million by cutting out the deep-dive pool and reducing the 53-metre swimming pool to 25-metres.

Andrew Knack, city councillor for west-end Ward Nakota Isga, said altering or shelving the project now doesn't bode well for recreation facilities envisioned for other parts of the city.

"We are so far behind as a city in recreation," Knack said outside the meeting. "If we're trying to address the recreation needs of the city, we need to actually follow the plan that's been identified."

Kelly Cromwell with the Lewis Estates Community League said residents are in need of a facility, noting that the community league has tried unsuccessfully to sign up at the Terwillegar Recreation Centre for pool time.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton questioned the impact the shortage has city-wide.

"If people can't get in to the nearby rec centre, whether it's Terwillegar or Jasper Place or the YMCA, then they go elsewhere in the city, if they can get in at all."

Boost transit patrols

The Amalgamated Transit Union is asking the city to hire more transit peace officers to patrol buses and LRT stations.

Steve Bradshaw, president of ATU Local 569, said the current 90 transit peace officers need help on the ground.

"They are fatigued," he said. "Every single day they are traumatized and that is driving unusual absences from the job."

Bradshaw is urging the city to hire another 50 transit peace officers. In the operating budget, it's listed as an unfunded request amounting to $6.2 million in 2023.

He's also calling on the city to fund On-Demand Transit Service, which is currently not funded, for next year and beyond.

Peter Evans/CBC
Peter Evans/CBC

One of the more modest requests for new funding is from the C5 North East Hub, a collaboration of five social agencies.

They're asking for $200,000 to cover operating costs to continue running their community market, a refugee donation centre and a youth hub at the Clareview Recreation Centre.

Hannah Storvold, director of strategy and advocacy for C5, said 800 families use the market each month and there's a long wait list.

"The demand is enormous and so for our vulnerable folks, who through COVID were pushed further and further to the fringes, we see it even folks who weren't struggling before are struggling now."

Mayor Amajreet Sohi said he welcomes the participation from diverse groups and noted future collaboration will be crucial to keeping some of the programs in operation.

"I think one thing you see emerge out of this budget is a desire for more collaboration and a desire for more partnership opportunities, because city dollars cannot go far enough to meet the needs of the community."

On Thursday, the Edmonton Police Service will present its budget, now standing at $418 million for 2023, which includes funding for the Healthy Streets Operating Centre in Chinatown.