$60M cut in Edmonton operating budget could mean city job losses

The City of Edmonton is looking to cut $60 million over four years in services and programs which could mean eliminating redundant staff and middle and upper management positions.

The decrease is part of a multi-pronged amendment of 12 decreases and 24 increases to the 2023-26 operating budget that council approved Tuesday night. 

All amendments to the city’s proposed $7.75-billion capital budget and the four-year operating budget need final approval from council, which is expected on Friday. The operating budget for services and programs in 2023 is $3.2 billion. 

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, who proposed the omnibus amendment, said the $60 million involves a comprehensive review of all programs and services, city-wide.

“We’re not talking about eliminating front-line services,” Sohi told news media. 

The amendment requires administration to reduce spending each year by a minimum of $15 million by “exercising hiring restraints into non-frontline vacant positions,” the amendment reads. 

Sohi said administration will determine the scope of the review early next year and report to council on a regular basis on proposed areas to cut.

“It will look at streamlining the management, it will look at layers of accountability within the organization,” Sohi said. “It will look at redundant positions that exist within the organization that may be no longer be needed.” 

The review will analyze consultant fees and the city’s use of consultants, he added. 

The Civic Service Union 52 (CSU 52), which represents about 6,800 workers in technical, professional, administrative, and clerical jobs, welcomed the move. 

In a press release Wednesday, president of CSU 52 Lanny Chudyk, said he’s pleased the city will evaluate the management structure. 

“The City of Edmonton has far too many levels of management in too many departments,” Chudyk said in the release.

“This comes at a cost to front-line staff who are overworked and understaffed, which impedes on their ability to serve Edmontonians efficiently and effectively.” 

Others see the $60 million review as cutting jobs. 

As councillors continued to debate more proposed amendments Wednesday morning, Coun. Aaron Paquette said he wouldn’t support more decreases in staffing. 

“We just passed a massive cut to our workforce which I am personally not convinced it’s not going to be without repercussions,” Paquette said to council. 

“I will absolutely not support any more cuts to the people that we’re asking to do more and more and more with less and less and less.”

Tax levy goes up

Coun. Erin Rutherford had proposed reducing the budget of the Expanding Diversity and Inclusion program by $253,000 in 2025 and coming years, which was defeated 6-7. 

Rutherford said most of the amendments councillors have put forward have added money to the operating and capital budgets, instead of decreasing the budgets.

With amendments passed so far in capital and operating budgets, the property tax increase would rise to 5.1 per cent in 2023, up from the 3.9 per cent administration recommended.

Jodi Graham, director of budget planning and development in financial corporate services, calculated the tax levy would increase 5.5 per cent in 2024, 4.29 per cent in 2025 and 4.47 per cent in 2026. 

Other omnibus amendments include $11 million for enhanced snow and ice removal, $11.9 million in permanent funding for on-demand transit service, $3.9 million for 24/7 Crisis Diversion, and expanding the base budget for Explore Edmonton by $5 million.

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