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Sohi sends 6-page letter to Smith detailing ways Alberta can help Edmonton

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi says decades of neglect from the provincial government have put Edmonton in a difficult financial situation and he’s calling on the premier to step up and give the city equitable treatment.

In a six-page letter sent to Premier Danielle Smith on Tuesday, Sohi laid out nine ways the province could assist the city financially, totalling an ask of tens of millions of dollars.

“The current financial challenges we face are mainly caused by the lack of consistent and equitable support from the government of Alberta,” Sohi said during a media availability in Edmonton Tuesday.

The letter comes after Smith told reporters last week that her government “received a number of reports that do have us concerned.” She did not elaborate on what those reports or concerns were aside from saying the city is facing some serious financial challenges.

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Smith said the Alberta government is “ready to assist” if the city asks for assistance.

Sohi referenced Smith’s March 27 offer to help in his letter, detailing his asks which include that the province pay the city the equivalent of property taxes on its provincially owned and operated buildings.

The province is not required to pay taxes to the City of Edmonton on its properties, but a long-standing grant program has seen the province essentially reimburse the city for some of those costs.

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In 2019, that amount was reduced to 50 per cent.

Sohi is asking the province to retroactively pay back the difference — to the tune of $60 million.

“Every year we lose $14 million that Edmonton taxpayers have to make up because the provincial government is not providing us their share of property taxes that they owe to Edmonton. If they do that, we can reduce property taxes and we can eliminate our entire $60-million deficit.”

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Other asks include that the province provide full funding for the Alberta Health Services shigella program, which Sohi says the city spends $2.2 million on annually.

The mayor also wants to see the province fully fund Emergency Medical Services within Edmonton, which would reduce the number of medical calls city firefighters respond to. Sohi said this would save the city $28 million annually.

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He would also like to see the province reconsider grant allocations to reflect the services offered by large municipalities such as Edmonton, saying the city faces unique challenges.

“We are a service hub for a larger population. We serve regional municipalities. We also serve northern Alberta and there are added pressures on Edmonton for which we do not get compensated,” Sohi said.

“I am very hopeful that this is an opportunity for Danielle Smith’s government, the premier and her cabinet to step up and show that they care about Edmonton.”

Speaking in Calgary on Tuesday afternoon, Smith said she looked at Sohi’s letter and asked Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver to engage a team to work with Edmonton to see what the government might be able to do.

“I’ll listen to any of the recommendations and will proceed with a measure of goodwill to try to figure out if we can find some long-term, lasting solutions for them,” Smith said.

“If there’s a holistic approach that we can take that would help more municipalities, that is obviously what we would prefer to do.”

Smith went on to say that the province must make sure they’re being fair.

“If there are policy changes that make sense, that would apply across the board to other municipalities, we’ll have to certainly consider doing that,” she said.

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“If there are ways that we can take on some of the various services they’ve provided that aren’t in their jurisdiction, that are in our jurisdiction, I’m open minded about that as well.”

Click to play video: 'Albert government offers to help Edmonton sort its finances amid management exodus'

Albert government offers to help Edmonton sort its finances amid management exodus

Edmonton city councillors have been vocal about the city’s financial struggles. In November, council approved a 6.6 per cent tax increase for Edmontonians.

Sohi said there are just two ways municipalities can raise revenue: property taxes and user fees.

“Raising user fees at a time when people are struggling with affordability is something that this council will not do,” the mayor said.

“We will continue to make prudent decisions. We will continue to provide quality public services that Edmontonians rely on. We will continue to make those services and keep those services affordable.”

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Sohi wanted to reassure Edmontonians that the city “remains compliant with our guiding legislation in all aspects of operations, including with our financial policies, which are within the legislated limits.”

“We have very rigorous processes in place in our city that ensure accountability, ensures that whatever decisions we make are done to the highest standard and compliant to legislation.”

— with files from Breanna Karstens-Smith, Global News.

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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