Edmonton city jobs on the line as council seeks ways to save money

Fire services, recreation centres, athletic field maintenance and other staff are at risk of being cut or reduced within the City of Edmonton as council tackles how to keep the property tax increase low.

Council weighs options to keep property tax increase at 2.6 per cent or bring it to zero

Edmonton city voted 11-2 in favour of a 135 unit affordable housing project which will be built beside Keheewin School on the city's southside. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

City services — and potentially hundreds of jobs — could be cut or reduced next year as Edmonton city council deliberates a tight budget with the goal of keeping the property tax increase low.

Council is digging for at least $28.5 million in savings to keep the property tax increase at 2.6 per cent.

It needs to find an additional $44 million in savings to hit a zero per cent tax hike in 2020. Coun. Michael Walters requested a list of options in October that would allow the city to avoid increasing taxes. 

The city is dealing with $26 million less this year in operating money and $185 million less for capital projects because of cuts from the Alberta government.  

Councillors are weighing a list of options and Thursday afternoon, questioned how the proposed cuts would affect services.

The zero per cent list includes the option to remove an Edmonton Fire Services ladder truck and tanker truck for a  potential $2 million savings. 

The city also estimates it could save $2.6 million in 2020 and 2021 by holding off on hiring 25 full-time staff to run a Hazmat unit for the south side.

Coun. Tony Caterina raised concerns about how this would affect fire service response times but fire Chief Ken Block was diplomatic, saying he doesn't anticipate a risk as it relates to responding to hazardous materials.

"We've given it consideration," Block said. "I think that's something that we can make work." 

Job numbers

On the sensitive subject of jobs, the city could be streamlining to save $10 million in 2020 alone, by incorporating workforce strategies.

That could include removing vacant positions, imposing mandatory days without pay and reclassifying certain positions.

The city also continues to review its program and services and since last year has identified $31 million in savings, expected to go up to $35 million this year. 

Walters has been studying employee levels at other municipalities.

"Areas that are definitely similar apples to apples: real-estate, financial services, corporate procurement, comms, engagement, planning, development services, human resources, law — many of those apples to apples areas we are much higher than other cities our size."

Wednesday, councillors put forward several motions related to capital projects, including the proposal to defer Lewis Farms Recreation Centre and Coronation Recreation Centre. Those hadn't been voted on as of Thursday afternoon. 

Council is expected to continue debating both operating and capital budgets on Friday.



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