City of Edmonton aims to cut $60M from budget while re-allocating another $240M

Click to play video: 'City of Edmonton aims to cut $60M from budget while re-allocating another $240M'
City of Edmonton aims to cut $60M from budget while re-allocating another $240M
Edmonton city council is looking at ways to cut $60 million in costs and re-allocate another $240 million towards housing, climate change, public transit and core services. Sarah Komadina reports – Feb 21, 2024

Edmonton city councillors are looking for ways to cut $60 million from the base operating budget over the next four years, while also reallocating another $240 million in funds to different areas.

Last fall, the administration was tasked with undertaking a city-wide comprehensive review of all programs and services, equipment and infrastructure requirements, organizational structure, outcomes generated and guiding metrics.

It was also told to exercise hiring restraints in non-frontline vacant positions and reduce consultant use and fees, review layers of accountability and internal facing services, without impacting front-line essential services.

The goal is to find $15 million in savings from 2023-2026, or $60 million in total, to keep taxes down. Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the administration has already found $45-million to cut from the budget.

The administration was also asked to identify $240 million of expenses that could be reallocated towards housing, climate change, public transit and core services.

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“The budget won’t necessarily decrease by $240 million — budget in one area may decrease so that we can increase it in another,” explained Coun. Anne Stevenson.

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No decisions will be made until later in the spring — the information brought to council now is simply to get the conversation started, Sohi said.

“The discussion is reallocation of existing resources toward priorities of Edmontonians: housing and climate change, and improving core services such as snow and ice, public transit, boulevard maintenance, grass cutting and all that — things that have not kept pace with population growth,” Sohi said.

“This is a very productive conversation — looking at where we can do less and where we need to do more, but this is a long process as well.”

Some of the ideas being explored to do that, which city administration has estimates for how much of a financial impact it would create, are:

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  • Cancel waste calendar mailouts — residents would rely on digital information
  • Stop collecting natural holiday trees after Christmas, with the rationale that residents picked up the trees at the start of the season and may have the ability to facilitate their own disposal after the fact.
  • Eliminate Edmonton Heritage Council annual funding
  • Eliminate Edmonton Sports Council annual funding
  • Eliminate funding the Living Hope Strategy, a community plan to prevent suicide in Edmonton. Administration said the option would have the city step away from a direct investment role in recognition that the sector continues to mature.
  • Reduce the number of employee engagement survey check-ins per year
  • Review Policy C607 -Retroactive Municipal Tax Relief and reduce amount of tax forgiveness, review policy to ensure council’s approach to tax forgiveness is clearly defined, transparent and equitable.
  • Deferring (for one year only) staffing a sixth Edmonton Fire Rescue Services District and the hiring of six additional district chiefs until the 2027-2030 budget
  • Deploy broader cost-recovery and cost-sharing options with the Alberta Health Services supply chain, when firefighting equipment to rescue and transport patients during medical calls ends up in an ambulance or hospital and isn’t returned to EFRS, forcing the city to purchase more equipment.
  • Discontinue outsourcing a laundry company for cleaning bed linens at fire stations, which are already equipped with washers, dryers and detergent for staff to clean clothes. The city suggests firefighters use existing washing machines and dryers to clean their own bed linens when at stations and not on a call.
  • Stop bringing in external contract providers to do immunizations for Edmonton Fire Rescue Services staff. Similar to other City of Edmonton employees, EFRS staff would instead be eligible to receive immunizations at local pharmacies or Alberta Health Services clinics.
  • Reduce non-legally required engagement: Three departments account for the majority of the external operating spend on engagement (annual 2017-22 averages): Community Services ($86,000), City Operations ($240,000), and Urban Planning and Economy ($275,000). The city suggests reducing non-legally required engagement work that uses operating dollars such as lowering the number of projects that include engagement and/or scaling down the scope of engagement (ie. Online instead of in-person.)
  • Reduce public engagement for infrastructure projects: Reduce the amount spent on external services (which costs the city about $2 million a year) by 20 per cent for capital projects.
  • Increase existing fees for overweight permit fees on bridges and roads
  • Increase fees for commemorative programs: 12 per cent for benches and 28 per cent for commemorative trees in 2024 is being contemplated to cover the cost of inflation.
  • Introduce fees for dust abatement, a process currently free of charge that mitigates dust generated on rural roads by either spraying calcium chloride or having a grader pack down a petroleum-based product.
  • Generate revenue from Business Improvement Areas (BIA) by contracting enhanced maintenance services such as plant watering and maintenance and lighting
  • Increase/sell the city’s fabrication services
  • Enhance ETS fare collection for special events to decrease fare evasion and increase revenues by adding a $1.50 ticket surcharge (Elks games would be excluded)
  • Create an online store for ETS souvenirs or merchandise, expected to generate $25,000 a year
  • Invest in parking enforcement personnel to drive increased revenues: create an internally managed parking team to support existing contract services to increase capacity
  • Increase booking fees on the more than 1,500 outdoor sports field facilities in the city
  • Increase cross corporate naming rights – i.e. Recreation, transit and other facilities, by using a sponsorship agency instead of the current one-off approach to sponsorships. Potential sponsors would be invited to consider purchasing naming rights for a specific period of time to various municipal facilities and amenities as well as consider advertising and exclusive supplier agreements as part of a negotiated sponsorship opportunity.
  • Resell geospatial data the city already pays to acquire, such as orthophotos
  • Index to inflation Edmonton Fire Rescue Services fees such as fire inspections, permits and false alarms
  • Consistently bill owners of properties for false fire alarms: amend a bylaw to allow for more reasons to bill a homeowner or business when firefighters respond to a false alarm

Not everything administration proposed will move forward, Sohi said, stating some non-core items are too important to Edmonton residents to get rid of, such as Edmonton Heritage Council funding.

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One suggestion Stevenson is excited about is the idea of building transit fare into the cost of event tickets.

“After hockey games, after major concerts at Commonwealth Stadium, there are hundreds and thousands of people that use transit but aren’t necessarily able to go to the fare box to pay their fair,” Stevenson said.

“So the option to include that as part of the ticket price, I think is a great way to continue providing great ETS for Edmontonians while still recouping some of that cost.”

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There are also options being explored where the financial impact has yet to be fully determined. Those ideas include:

  • Introduce a pavement degradation fee for any utility or private works that impact city roads
  • Introduce new fees for non-city use of snow dumping facilities
  • Introduce new fees for patio permits
  • Introduce new fees to charge for road right of way permits
  • Increase maintenance agreement fees with developers to ensure all work is covered as per contract
  • Increase select transit fees and revenue streams, such as introducing : three-day and seven-day transit passes
  • Re-introduction of tools to increase the efficiency of core services under city operations (eg. Snow and Ice Control, weed prevention and removal, etc.) in the context of changing climate.
  • Offset increased costs for waste diversion
  • Market excess available space at the Material Recovery Facility to external parties
  • Reduce customizations on fire trucks
  • Increase cross-corporate advertising – i.e. city website, city facilities, assets etc.
  • Increase sponsorship for city programs
  • Grow industrial tax base – show how competitive Edmonton is compared to other cities and countries

“I think some of those options seem very, very promising,” Stevenson said of the suggestions that have not been costed out yet. “What’s great about that is it means that we can be selective about which ones we’re choosing, ensure that we’re maintaining value for Edmontonians while still finding savings where we can.”

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City council will further discuss the operating budget amendments on March 12 and 13.

At that meeting, city administration will be seeking direction as to which ideas council would like to see fully integrated to achieve the immediate $10 million for either reallocation or reduction
for the tax levy, and the ideas that council would like brought forward for consideration as part of the Spring 2024 supplemental operating budget adjustment (SOBA) on April 23.

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