The City of Edmonton spent $580M on consulting services from 2015-2019

By Mack Male

Between 2015 and 2019 the City of Edmonton spent more than $580 million on professional consulting services, about three quarters of which was for capital projects, according to a new report.

The report follows an audit conducted in 2018 which found that the City of Edmonton spent $616 million on consulting services from 2013-2017, about 72% of which was for capital projects. The city auditor also found that frequent contract amendments — created when work is added, removed, or modified from an original contract — added 72% to the budgeted amount for consulting services. A motion passed in December 2018 directed administration to reduce the overall external services budget between 2019 and 2022.

According to the new report, the City of Edmonton spends about 1.2% of the operating budget and 9.0% of the capital budget on consulting services each year.

The report also shows that 944 total contract amendments were administered from 2015-2019. Of those, 544 were planned with a total value of $318 million while 400 were unplanned with a total value of $59 million.

Administration says that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in one-time decreases of $16 million in 2020 and $2.8 million in 2021 for consulting and contractor costs. The report also says that consulting services were reduced by $3.7 million per year during last year's budget process and that administration continues to "seek contract savings from all active contracts" with progress to be reported in the spring.

Also coming up at council

Here are some of the other notable agenda items coming before city council for the week of March 1-5:

  • The City of Edmonton is looking to extend the 24/7 temporary pandemic accommodation at the Edmonton Convention Centre until April 30 at a cost of $2.2 million. The facility continues to support an average of 618 visits per day for drop-in day services and 260 visits per night for overnight shelter. Council previously approved $8.5 million for the shelter in October 2020.
  • Administration does not recommend the use of tax increment financing (such as a community revitalization levy) to help fund the construction and operation of LRT lines arguing it would "distort property taxation" and put pressure on taxes in future years, and that it "bypasses council's capital budget prioritization process."
  • A sole source contract worth $459,000 with NEC Corporation of America for facial recognition technology was among the $1.3 million in non-competitive agreements entered into by the Edmonton Police Service between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2020.
  • There are 78 approved plans containing undeveloped park sites. The 2019-2022 capital budget includes $17.2 million for new park development, but a 10-year capital investment outlook estimates the total cost of 214 new or redeveloping parks at $379.9 million.

Consultants at work

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Other agenda items coming up include:

  • Although the Municipal Government Act enables city council to set residential property tax rates based on location or land-use, administration warns that any such change from the current market-based approach risks creating "distortions in the real estate marketplace that could offset intended benefits."
  • Vision Zero Street Labs are low-cost, community-led, temporary projects to trial safer street designs. Council will consider funding for the program in April 2021. A local improvement tax could be used to make the temporary designs permanent but administration warns that such an approach "would create inequitable distribution of improvements."
  • Administration is recommending the introduction of vendor permits for businesses selling fireworks to help ensure regulations are followed and safety information is provided to the consumer. Edmonton is the only large city in Alberta that allows for the sale of fireworks.
  • The redevelopment of the Herb Jamieson Centre will increase the number of available beds at the emergency shelter from 250 to 400 and is estimated to cost $16 million. Hope Mission has raised $6.1 million thus far, with another $8 million committed by the federal and provincial governments on Feb. 14. Construction will begin in spring 2020 with completion expected in fall 2021.
  • A business plan for the proposed Joint Dispatch Centre, a project between the City of Edmonton and Edmonton Police Service, will be delivered in June 2021. The goal of the project is to "connect all social service ecosystem partners to ensure the right services and units are being dispatched to calls for service."
  • EndPovertyEdmonton has submitted a proposal to lead and manage the Indigenous Culture and Wellness Centre project and has requested $202,042 to complete the business case for the centre.
  • Expanding the uses of Hawrelak Park Lake would require $2 million in capital costs and $100,000 per year in ongoing maintenance costs to achieve necessary water quality improvements.
  • A new community-led and coordinated senior sector model will be developed to help ensure "a common vision and goals for all seniors to age well in the community" based on the success of the Coordinated Pandemic Response Model that was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Health City CEO Reg Joseph wrote in the organization's annual report for 2020 that along with partners it has "developed catalytic projects in the areas of virtual care, remote diagnostic imaging, home health monitoring, and data for health" and "successfully demonstrated a novel mechanism to enable safe use of health data by the community, students, and industry through the implementation of synthetic data."

Agendas for this week include:

Meetings are streamed live on city council's YouTube channel.