Report offers council service cuts and new fees to meet OP12 goals

· The Pulse

The city's administration says councillors must make tough and significant cuts to services if they want Edmonton to be able to reallocate $240 million in its operating budget, as council has requested.

The suggestion is part of OP12, a council directive created in December 2022 that instructed administration to find $60 million in budget cuts and a further $240 million to be reallocated in the 2023-2026 budget cycle.

Little progress on OP12 has been made public since its creation. But now, in a report originally scheduled to be discussed at a Jan. 30 council meeting, administration has presented many options to meet council's request.

The options range from creating an online Edmonton Transit Service merch store to eliminating snow clearing in the river valley, selling off city assets, and cutting funds to organizations.

Taproot examined the report before the city took its meeting agendas off its website as part of meeting cancellations for Jan. 29 to Feb. 2. Those agendas included links to the report.

In the report, administration provides council with options ahead of the spring supplemental budget adjustment, where council will vote on cuts and reallocations.

So far, the report identifies $130.8 million that could be reallocated. To get to the $240 million targeted, however, the report presents more than 60 options that if enacted could broadly result in service cuts, funding cuts, and increases to existing fees or the introduction of new ones.

Selling off-street parking lots, such as the Stanley A. Milner Library Parkade, is one option in the report. Increasing fees by up to 7.5% and implementing new parking zones on some streets and in some parks is another option.

The report suggests creating an internally managed parking team to increase both efficiency and revenue from fees by more than $2.8 million. It also suggests an option to charge for the residential restricted parking program. While that program is currently free, the report said other jurisdictions charge for similar programs, and the city could make an additional $120,000 by 2026 if it elects to charge.

The report looks at eliminating snow clearing in the river valley, as well as disposing of some park space and reducing turf maintenance. It also includes the option to pull back programs like Front Yards in Bloom, Bloomin' Boulevards, pop-up gardens, and dog parks.

Councillors Sarah Hamilton, Erin Rutherford, and Ashley Salvador at a city council meeting in August 2023.

Administration said city councillors may have to make significant cuts to services if they want to find $240 million to reallocate towards council priorities.

Administration said it could potentially increase city revenue by $66,000 if it raises fees to book sports fields by 10%. The report said the city could save $666,000 over the next three years by eliminating funding to the Edmonton Sport Council, and save $5.13 million over the next three years by eliminating funding to the Edmonton Heritage Council.

The report also presents an option to cut heritage program grants, with the amount of savings undetermined. It also presents an option to cut funding to the city's suicide prevention strategy, saving $2.6 million by 2026.

The report suggests the city could save nearly $400,000 over the next three years by reducing its public engagement. Half of this would come from reducing engagement that is not legally required and scaling down engagement to online only. The report suggests the other half could come from reducing engagement on infrastructure projects.

The report estimates the city could generate $88,000 by 2026 if it adds a $1.50 surcharge to tickets at Commonwealth Stadium — excluding Edmonton Elks games — to support cost recovery for transit service to events. It also presents an option to introduce a transit pass option for three and seven days, and to raise transit fares broadly. The report also presents the option of opening an ETS merch store, suggesting this could generate $60,000 by 2026. Another option for shifting funds is to reduce graffiti removal on city infrastructure.

The administration report presents an option to consider charging business improvement areas for watering plants on boulevards and lighting trees, two services it now provides for free. It also presents the option to introduce fees for sidewalk patio permits. These fees were waived during the pandemic to support businesses with increased outdoor seating.

Another option presented in the report is to eliminate the window repair program for business improvement areas, which has "had a huge positive impact," according to Coun. Anne Stevenson.

Other options include:

  • having firefighters wash their own bed linens instead of outsourcing
  • increasing fees for commemorative benches
  • eliminating the requirement for contractors to comply with the Living Wage Policy
  • deferring the neighbourhood renewal program until 2026
  • reducing social support and community development grants and subsidies broadly
  • increasing existing fees for overweight permit fees on bridges and roads
  • introducing fees for dust abatement
  • increasing fees for fire inspections, permits, and false alarms by about 22%
  • increasing fees for recreation centres
  • increasing non-profit lease rates

There are more options, including many in a private attachment. The list had been narrowed down from more than 400 ideas submitted by council, city staff, and union partners.

The city has not analyzed every idea for its projected cost savings, and has classified some as "low-priority." Administration said it understands these ideas are likely not of interest to council but could be analyzed if council desires or if administration needs more options to achieve the reallocation targets.

While council still needs to make choices for nearly half of the $240 million in shifts, the $60 million in cuts is going better, with $45 million identified in the city report. The city said it has exercised restraint in hiring, aided by structural changes to the communications and employee services departments, and avoided filling five top executive positions, which saved $3 million. The city decreased the number of supervisors by 5.5% between 2020 and 2023, and administration said it was able to reduce total overtime expenditures by 51,383 hours in 2023 compared to 2022.

The city also restricted travel and spending on consultants.

The report is vague as to where the rest of the cuts would come from. It said it found $2 million in savings with the city's modified encampment response, $800,000 with an adjustment to fuel and utilities, and $20 million in COVID-19 revenue shortfalls, among other savings.

The dozens of proposed cuts were scheduled to be discussed at a council meeting on Jan. 30. But meetings that week have been cancelled in the wake of a shooting at City Hall on Jan. 23.

Further, council was set to decide on cuts and shifts at a council meeting scheduled for Feb. 21 and 23, but that date may now have to be altered as a result of the shifts.