Edmonton councillors heard from community members Wednesday about the proposed Reimagine Services plan, which suggests areas in which the city could save some money while keeping the tax increase at zero per cent.
“Reimagine Services has been about looking for cost savings and revenue generation which would cause the least amount of public disruption while keeping our eye on the bottom line,” City Manager Andre Corbould said.
“As you well know, these tradeoffs are not simple.”
“Our current tax increase sits at an approved 1.8 per cent for next year. This does not include projected revenue losses and potential additional costs related to financial effects of COVID, which could result in a financial gap equivalent to a five-per cent levy next year,” Corbould added.
Administration was asked to review city services to achieve cost savings or generate revenue across five of the largest budget areas:
- Fire Rescue Services
- Facility Management and Maintenance
- Fleet Management and Maintenance
- Parks and Open Space Access
- Recreation and Sport Facilities Access and Recreation and Culture Programming
Administration put forward 18 actions that could be implemented in 2022. Estimated cost savings range from $572,000 and $1.4 million per year. With the addition of other potential actions, total savings could reach up to $16 million between 2022 and 2027.
Some of the suggested actions include:
- Implementing paid parking at Emily Murphy Park, Rafter’s Landing, Muttart Conservatory, Fort Edmonton Park and Telus World of Science in spring 2022.
- Naturalizing (reducing mowing, manicuring) some park and parkland spaces, specifically turf and scrub bed areas.
- Reducing the amount of registered recreation and culture programming (based on cost recovery and low enrolment, attendance).
- A hybrid model for customer service at city rec centres, where self-service payment kiosks be introduced starting in late 2022. (It would start with Terwillegar and the remaining 18 locations would be considered later, with more funding required.)
- A pilot for third-party service delivery for Lewis Farms Community Recreation Centre.
- Leasing golf courses and driving range to a private operator.
- Edmonton Fire Rescue Services would work with Alberta Health Services to find ways to divert some activities related to non-urgent medical calls.
- Administration will establish criteria to guide decisions about capital investments in new stations and heavy vehicles.
The proposal to start charging parking fees at popular parks and attractions is one that sparked feedback.
“Parking revenues realized within the Reimagine Services totals $1.7 million over five years, growing after the initial investment of equipment to $400,000 per year,” Corbould said.
Many speakers suggested having more consultation with the public and stakeholders, including unions, front-line workers and community leagues, before implementing the Reimagine Services recommendations.
Speakers included labour group leaders, an arena users group spokesperson and community league representatives.
Greg Mady, Edmonton and District Labour Council president, spoke against privatizing things like waste services and golf courses.
“Looking at the most optimistic projection of implementing every recommendation in the report, you would only be creating a savings of $2.7 million a year, which essentially amounts to a rounding error in the city’s budget,” he said.
“How much did you spend on consultants to generate this report?”
KPMG was hired in September 2020 on a contract worth $997,000, a city spokesperson told Global News. The company is working with teams in all five city service areas.
“KPMG provided an objective analytical and evidence based lens to the reviews. They created in-depth business cases based on financial data, completed jurisdictional reviews and market sounding and facilitated discussions which all were used to inform administration on the action going forward.”
John Mervyn, who represents CUPE Local 30, said he believes the city can run recreation centres more cheaply than the private sector. He added privatizing golf courses would increase the cost to access them.
“It’s going to end up with lower service levels and higher costs to the citizens. Council worked very hard to reach a zero per cent tax increase, but adding parking fees, increasing costs at golf courses and potentially reducing services are all just transferring the costs and effects onto the citizens themselves.
“It’s essentially another tax increase.”
Of the 17 scheduled speakers, most said it would be important to survey citizens to find out exactly what services are most important to them before acting on any of the Reimagine Services recommendations.
“The city didn’t really have a consultation process,” Mervyn said. “They told us what was going on. They gave us the information after it was decided.”
Steve Hogle, with Hockey Edmonton, said any reduced subsidies or increased costs on city arenas would be passed on to families.
“We think it would have been beneficial to have some deeper conversation with stakeholders before this went to council,” he said.
“Having missed that opportunity, let’s have those conversations now.”
Greg Rehman is a local firefighters union president. He says the medical unit pilot would eliminate two pumper units — and potentially positions — from emergency response.
“EFFU supports the trial of three-person medical response units, however we cannot support the trial at the expense of eliminating two frontline pumper units, decreasing service levels in the downtown community,” Rehman told councillors.
“It is difficult for our executive and our members to support these recommendations as presented without being genuinely engaged during the process.”
The review of city services and savings recommendations — done by KPMG — will be made public in two weeks, ahead of the July 5 council meeting.
“Beyond listening to the speakers who are registered today and providing the report, updated information will be posted on the city’s website to provide an option for Edmontonians to send feedback for our consideration,” Corbould said.
“We remain committed to listening but a path for savings somehow has to be determined.”
The discussion will return to council on July 5, including the proposal to start charging fees to park at parks and attractions. At that time, councillors will address further questions that came from administration and from speakers Wednesday.