Public Consultation Results Help City Confirm Long-term Priorities
December 16, 2011
Road maintenance, efficient transit and reining in urban sprawl were top issues many Edmontonians commented on during public consultation the City conducted between September 26 and October 31, 2011.
The report on the consultation summarizes input from 1,208 participants in an online survey conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion and seven public meetings. The consultation focused on three main topic areas: satisfaction with City services, perceptions about taxes, and goals and outcomes for the community.
The input—including over 5,500 written comments—provides administration with feedback on the delivery of services through next year. It also supports the refinement of the City’s long-term Strategic Planning Framework and the development of The Way We Finance, a 10-year strategy to ensure financial sustainability.
“There are some practical suggestions on how we deliver many services, ranging from the 311 call centre to parking in the downtown core. There is also interesting information to help our public information campaigns and planning, such as perceptions about the distribution of taxes among the three orders of government,” said Lorna Rosen, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer for the City. “The thousands of suggestions we received will be provided to the departments responsible for the respective services and to the stewards of the six 10-year goals and the directional plans – The Ways.”
Share of tax dollars
The majority of participants in public meetings and the online survey thought the City received a much higher portion of their household’s total tax payments than is actually the case. When participants were told the City receives about 5% of an average Edmonton household’s taxes, including income, education and property taxes, the majority said the City should receive a higher share of the total taxes.
For example, participants in the online survey said the City should receive almost 25% of their total income and property taxes, and the share to other orders of government should decrease proportionately.
Respondents indicated that even though average municipal taxes and utility fees comprise a small portion of their total household spending (roughly 2%), the increasing cost pressures of other areas in our growing Edmonton economy make the non-discretionary costs such as taxes and utilities a concern.
Balancing the budget
Participants were asked about the best way to balance the operating budget, since municipalities cannot plan for deficits or surpluses.
From the online survey, the least popular approach was increasing property taxes with no other fiscal measures. However, a combination of a property tax increase and user fee increases was favoured most by the largest number of respondents and was least contentious.
A combination of cutting service levels to reduce costs and a small tax and user fee increase was the next most favoured approach. Cutting existing services to reduce taxes was the least popular approach.
A majority of participants in meetings said they would consider civic taxes fair, but only when they received high-quality service for the civic programs that are most important, such as roads and neighbourhood renewal. Many participants online and in meetings said the average amount was fair as long as taxes were not used for projects they called extravagant or unnecessary.
The average amount from all respondents to the online survey was $139 per month for municipal taxes.
For many Edmontonians, services most important to affecting their overall satisfaction with the City were roads maintenance, infrastructure renewal and development, and City governance, closely followed by public transit. Improving satisfaction with these service areas would have the greatest impact on overall satisfaction with the City, the online survey suggests. In public meetings, on average, respondents said the most important service areas are police, fire rescue and roads, and waste management.
Two-thirds of the online survey respondents said they were somewhat or very satisfied overall with City services. Waste Management Services, Parks and Fire Rescue had the highest satisfaction ratings, while Roads maintenance and Planning received the lowest marks.
City Goals and Outcomes
Citizens were asked about their values and what are the most important results, or outcomes, that the City’s 10-year goals should achieve. In the public meetings, the top three outcomes were: a safe and clean city; the transportation system is integrated, safe and gives citizens choice; and
Edmonton strives to be a leader in environmental advocacy, stewardship, preservation and conservation.
The top three choices in the online survey were: a safe and clean city; the City of Edmonton delivers valued, quality, cost-effective services to its citizens; and the transportation system is integrated, safe and gives citizens choice.
The Public Consultation complements the range of other engagement activities such as almost 2 million calls to 311 each year, calls and email directly to City Council, issue-related City consultations, and the 67 people who spoke at the November 23 Public Hearing on the 2012 Budget.
The online survey also recruited Edmontonians to take part in an ongoing online community panel through 2012. About half of the participants signed up and further recruitment will occur in 2012. Using demographic information provided, such as geographic area, age and income level, the results of the online survey were weighted to convey representation of Edmonton’s actual makeup.
The City will use input from the consultation to begin a more comprehensive public involvement process for the 2013 Budget. The City will collaborate with the Centre for Public Involvement based at the University of Alberta to develop the consultation.