Patio permit fees, cuts to arts and sports groups on list as Edmonton looks to trim budget

Funding to Edmonton Heritage Council, Sports Council, the paper waste calendar, and tree pick-up are on list of potential cuts.  (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)
Funding to Edmonton Heritage Council, Sports Council, the paper waste calendar, and tree pick-up are on list of potential cuts. (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton city managers say they've found $45 million in savings so far — about 75 per cent of council's goal to find $60 million over four years.

City council directed administration in late 2022 to find some more financial room as it approved the city's 2023-2026, $3.3 billion operating budget.

The budget translated to a 6.6 per cent tax increase for property owners in 2024.

But $60 million isn't the only money city administrators have been tasked to find. An additional $240 million is needed to re-allocate toward housing, climate change, public transit and core services. Cuts to arts and sports groups, some services and an increase to cross-corporate naming rights on some city facilities are all possibilities.

City managers presented results of the exercise to council Wednesday.

Andre Corbould, city manager, and Stacey Padbury, the city's chief financial officer, said savings stem from streamlining two departments and redeploying some staff to front-line areas.

Reducing external learning, travel, hosting and consultants fetched $9 million in savings, the report shows.

"Business travel continues to be limited and heavily scrutinized," Padbury said. "All travel within Alberta requires approval by department or division leader. Travel outside of Alberta requires approval by the city manager."

Consultants are used only when work can't be done by in-house employees, she added.

$240M reallocation list

Administration presented a list of options to find that money, and they include potential cuts to services and funding to groups.

Cutting annual funding to the Edmonton Heritage Council would save about $5.1 million over the reminder of the 2023-2026 budget, the report says.

"I have no interest in exploring the Heritage Council in terms of removing their funding," said Anne Stevenson, councillor for Ward O-day'min.

The council's mandate is to preserve, research and document Edmonton's history and heritage, as well as support First Nations, Métis and Inuit traditional practices and protocols.

The list also includes cancelling the waste calendar mail-out and switching to digital only, cancelling the natural holiday trees collection and reducing public engagement for infrastructure projects.

The city could save $666,000 by eliminating annual funding to the Edmonton Sports Council, the report said.

Some options would generate revenue instead of saving on existing services.

One is to increase cross-corporate naming rights on recreation, transit and other city facilities by leveraging sponsorship opportunities, fetching an estimated $850,000 over the next few years.

Sspomitapi Coun. Jo-Anne Wright voiced concerns that the facilities would lose identity and goodwill from the community.

"The citizens then do still realize it was the city that built it and their taxpayer dollars that went toward it?"

Corbould said the key is to make sure the city maintains recognition.

"I don't think we give all the naming away: the City of Edmonton needs to be front and centre in these places," he said.

New or increased fee options 

Administration didn't provide an estimate of what the city could make by introducing fees for things like patio permits.

Ashley Salvador said she's not a fan of that idea, as the city tries to support local businesses and vibrancy on main streets.

City administration estimates it can generate $194,000 by increasing fees for commemorative programs, where residents pay for purchasing benches and/or trees to honour loved ones.

"Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on material costs, an increase in fees of approximately 12 per cent for benches and 28 per cent for commemorative trees in 2024 is being contemplated," the report said.

Council will meet again March 12 to review an updated list of cost-saving measures, ahead of the spring supplemental budget adjustment.