As we continue to move through the municipal budget, I am reminded of the quote from Ovid who in 23 B.C. said “abundance has made me poor…” These words ring true for what we are now facing at City Hall. Since 2007 the total tax bill from the City of Edmonton on a typical home (including utilities) has gone up 79%. It does not stop there, as it is projected to go up 106% by 2018. Clearly, these numbers have grown well beyond real wage growth, the Consumer Price Index, or any other real metric reflecting the economic well-being of Edmonton’s citizens. While times were good, poor practices were overlooked, civic inefficiencies were glossed over, and little care was taken on these matters. Now we finally have the admission from “the powers that be” that we are indeed in a recession with no end in sight. In lieu of this admission, public opinion has begun to demand more out of City Council, and rightfully so.
Reviewing the City’s own satisfaction survey, only 54% of citizens asked said they were getting good value for their taxes, while 20% said they were getting poor to very poor value. These numbers represent a dramatic shift in public opinion. Citizens have spoken: they do not want aggressive tax increases nor do they want program cuts. However, they are expecting City Council to find efficiencies and run a better shop. It is not hard to see why taxpayers are demanding this — with the previous City overruns ,the utter lack of oversight in waste management, and the Metro Line just to name a few issues there is clear room for improvement.
Did you know that the City of Edmonton averages 5.7 hours of absenteeism or sick leave per person? We have roughly 9,400 full time employees which means we are losing 118,575 days (based on an eight hour work day) per year. Lost productivity is a huge drain on City coffers. We need to get this number down, it will not happen overnight but it is doable if we make it a priority.
If there was ever a time to prioritize, organize, and execute our civic operations the time is now. The citizens have said it and I do believe Council is working towards it. Although I have been asking for clear metrics, targets, and outcomes in order to evaluate what is working for our City, I still seem to be waiting. I guess I can take consolation in the fact that the statistics are coming – slowly – but on their way nonetheless. In the end it is not about the taxes themselves but what value we receive for the money we are asked to pay. An anonymous quote explained it well “A fine is a tax for doing something wrong. A tax is a fine for doing something right.”
We can get this done. I know we can. We just need to roll up our sleeves and ask if ‘this’ is a need or a want. Is this a must do or a nice thing to do? If we stand by and do nothing, this will leave our economic realities as they already are, so let’s utilize the strongest tool we have–the public’s opinion–and change it, for the public and for you.
 Police FTE’s not included