Layoffs loom over City of Edmonton staff as spring budget adjusted

More City of Edmonton employees will be laid off this spring but how many and from which departments is still being sorted out, interim city manager Adam Laughlin said Thursday. 

The city is looking to recoup millions of dollars in estimated losses from the COVID-19 pandemic and has already laid off 2,100 city staff on a temporary basis.

The city is facing an overall impact of $168 million in lost revenues and extra expenses by September, Laughlin’s team announced at a meeting on April 15.

At a news conference Thursday, Laughlin said while services like transit and recreation facilities have taken a big hit to the city’s revenue stream, other areas have seen an increase in demand for service, such as cleaning requirements. 

The city will adjust the layoffs accordingly, he said.  

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we’re respecting our employees and redeploying the best we can to address additional pressures that we have in the city.”

Laughlin expects to announce specific layoff decisions next week after council debates the spring budget at its next meeting on Monday. 

Mayor Don Iveson said it’s inevitable that more temporary layoffs are on the way. 

“The cuts frankly will have to be deeper on the staff side in order to stem the bleeding on the revenue side and that’s going to make it hard to relaunch and rebound from this,” he said. 

Low taxes 

The city’s budget documents show a 1.4 per cent tax increase for 2020, down from the approved 2.1 per cent in December.

Iveson stressed that Edmonton city council is aiming for the lowest tax increase possible. 

“We understand that everyone is struggling,” Iveson said during the news conference.

Iveson said he can’t promise the final number until council passes the spring budget adjustments next week.

“But I am glad that we’ve already come down from what was previously approved last December, that’s an extraordinary feat with a nine-figure hit projected already for our revenues this year,” he said. 

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin, above, presents the city’s projected shortfall during news conference Thursday. (City of Edmonton)

The mayor also stressed that the city is steering clear from running a deficit, a measure the province recently suggested could help municipalities cope with COVID-19 pandemic fallout.

“Deficits are the wrong financial course for our city in this crisis,” Iveson said.  “Even encouraging municipalities to run deficits could make it really difficult for communities to rebound from this crisis and doesn’t realize the stark financial limitations local governments already face.” 

Iveson, chair of the big cities mayors’ caucus within the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, reiterated the request the FCM sent out earlier Thursday for $10-15 billion in relief from the Federal government. 

If the money comes through, Iveson said it could go toward targeted relief for people and businesses struggling to pay property taxes this year. The city could also look at stimulus spending through capital projects.   

Bus redesign and waste bins on hold

Besides temporary layoffs, the city will use a combination of financial tools to try to make up for losses, Laughlin said, including cutting $46 million in transfers from the operating budget to capital budget. 

The city is putting two major initiatives on hold: the bus network redesign that was scheduled to start by September, and the four-stream bin waste pick up system, expected to start this spring. 

Laughlin said both projects would require the city to Interact with the public and get feedback — something not feasible under physical distancing measures. 

He expects both projects to be launched in the beginning of 2021 instead. 

One project connected to the bus network redesign — the on-demand transit service pilot project — is removed from the proposed budget for a savings of $3.7 million. 

The city’s operating budget is estimated to be just over $3 billion in 2020. 


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