Coronavirus: Edmonton councillor frustrated at lack of financial info ahead of Monday meeting

1,600 City of Edmonton employees laid off due to COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: An emotional interim city manager Adam Laughlin announces of the 2,000 staff members in the community and recreation branch, 1,600 employees of rec centres and other public places will be laid off on April 14.

Edmonton city council will try to get back to its normal business Monday.

At least as normal as it can get with its regular meeting taking place amid all other regular committees cancelled during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and only five of them attending in the council chamber while the rest take part via a conference call.

What is bothering Ward 11 Coun. Mike Nickel is a lack of reporting ahead of the meeting on the COVID-19 response. The agenda for Monday’s meeting normally would be published last Thursday, but it was not made public until Friday evening after the close of regular business.

Nickel wants to raise questions about financial shortfalls for groups that are associated with the city, but the info is not available, he said. He told Global News in a phone interview the best he can do is rough estimates based on what he’s hearing in the community.

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“Preliminary numbers just from the arts and cultural community work out to about $700,000 per month. That’s just the facility costs. The insurance, the heat, the power, these are just the basic facility fundamentals.

“One of the revenue shortfalls is going to be for the (Edmonton) Federation of Community Leagues, (as well as) the Arts Council for buildings like the Winspear, and the sports people — the Sports Council and all of their facilities like soccer centres. They’ve had cancellations. Their financials are apocalyptic.”

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Nickel wants the city administration to plan ahead but said they can’t.

One example is the EFCL.

“Their fixed costs are about $5,000 a month. Now times that about 135 community leagues, you’ll get a sense of scope and scale of that.”

He based that on one league in his ward. He admits it’ll vary by community league as some do not have community halls that they have to pay for.

He does not have an estimate for what sports leagues will be out.

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Without the background info, Nickel said these groups will not be in a position to apply for grants from the other orders of government.

“The trick here is aid is going to come from the province and federal government, so there will be cash out there,” he said.

“But if you don’t have the bill or the costs in hand to give to them, they’re not going to give you any money. You have to prove that these costs are real, which they are.”

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He said since the business of the city will be slowed over the next three months, that time can be put to good use to figure out what the potential costs will be.

“People would like to think that government is all-seeing and all-knowing. It isn’t.

“I’m kind of frustrated with the fact that these questions weren’t asked a month ago. We knew COVID-19 was coming.”

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The other COVID-19-related business on the Monday agenda is the formal readjustment related to the June 30 property tax deadline.

Council has already agreed to postpone any penalties for late payment of 2020 taxes until at least August 31. Normally those penalties would begin on July 1.

Council will also hear more details on efforts to work with the Alberta Utility Commission and utility companies like EPCOR on a deferral program. The hope is to defer payments for up to 90 days for clients that apply because of financial hardship.

Another report deals with changes to the council schedule because of the pandemic, while two more will be held in private, including one on the Trans Mountain Pipeline.