In December, Edmonton city councillors passed the 2021 budget with a zero per cent tax increase, recognizing many residents are suffering financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that zero per cent tax levy — the lowest since 1997 — came at a cost.
Roughly $49.9 million in reductions to department budget had to be found, which required some cuts, including more than 300 positions within the city.
On Tuesday afternoon, city officials announced it started the process by issuing about 60 layoff notices this month.
“It’s been a very emotional and challenging time for all of us,” Kim Armstrong, deputy city manager of employee services said Tuesday.
“These departures are the result of financial pressures. We are sorry to lose these colleagues. Our employees do quality work. Their work is both valued and important.”
About one quarter are for management and three quarters are for union employees. In order to fully achieve budget impacts, further reductions will likely continue through 2021, the city said.
The city was able to “substantially reduce” the number of actual layoffs by cutting some positions that had been kept vacant through most of last year, moving people to other vacant positions, and through other workforce strategies including an early retirement and voluntary layoff program. Those strategies equated to about 260 positions, Armstrong explained.
“We used a number of financial strategies to meet the zero per cent budget target, including cutting expenses and finding efficiencies,” she said. “But there was no way to reach our budget reduction targets without reducing staff numbers.”
Since most of the 60 positions being cut are union jobs and covered under a collective bargaining agreement, seniority and “bumping rights” come into play, which means the process could take several weeks to complete.
“The weeks ahead will be challenging for many people in our organization,” Armstrong said. “We are approaching these conversations with compassion and providing support to our leaders and our employees.”
She couldn’t say which departments or areas were affected by the layoffs but noted they span “a number of branches across every department in the city.”
“I’m not aware of any area that was exempt from the budget consideration,” she added.
The city continues to review programs and monitor revenues, and there may be additional adjustments in the months ahead.
“Today’s announcement is not the end but rather a continuation of our work to ensure the city’s budget can meet the needs of Edmontonians,” Armstrong said.
She didn’t rule out more job cuts.
“The reimagined services review… those reviews will unfold over the course of the year. It is possible once those reviews unfold… there could be further layoffs.
“In addition, the implementation of budget 2021 will occur over the course of 2021. This is the first phase of the implementation.”
The reimagined services review is looking at how efficient five business areas are: community recreation facilities, ETS fleet, parks and road, Edmonton transit, and Edmonton Fire Rescue Services.
While those departments are being examined more closely now for possible efficiencies, they “were not excluded in any way for consideration during our budget deliberation,” Armstrong said.
In a previous update from administration in November, councillors heard the budget reductions would come from additional savings — including the Edmonton Public Library offering a reduction to its annual tax-levy funding — expense reductions, service reductions — including operating hour reductions at city facilities and transit service reductions during non-peak hours, and in terms of fleet facilities and management — and use of one-time funding sources.
Reports from city administration to council at that time recommended cutting 338 full-time equivalent city positions, including 108 in supervisory or middle management roles.
- Five recreation facilities in 2021: Eastglen and Scona Leisure Centres, Oliver Outdoor Pool and Oliver and Tipton Arenas
- The spay and neuter program at the Animal Care and Control Centre
- The Community Investment Operating Grants for an additional year
- All planned service hours for Edmonton Transit’s Bus Network Redesign, turf maintenance service levels and Green Shack programming in spring, fall and winter
“These are challenging times,” Coun. Bev Esslinger said. “Reduced revenue and increased expenses and this budget reflects that.
“We’re not going make everyone happy with this budget but we did our best,” she said. “It wasn’t easy.”