Budget 2019 – Potential for Greater Savings

 

A few months ago I put forward a motion in advance of our budget deliberations to examine what programs and/or services could be changed, reduced, or cut. The results of that motion have now been released. This link will take you to the agenda and then you can view the first attachment which will provide you with a detailed list of those programs/services that could be adjusted to help bring down any possible tax increase.

 

The items listed cover a wide range and I’m encouraged to see a number of areas that I think we can save money while not impacting our existing services. It appears the first item in the list is not specific to Edmonton Police Service. What does that mean? Well it means there’s actually the potential for greater savings. All of the numbers for police and proposal I suggested below funding are still accurate but now there is potential that we could experience greater savings. The emergent items category was across the entire City of Edmonton organization and so I think it’s fair to proceed with the removal of those items from the budget recognizing that many people are looking to keep increases to a minimum. If we combine that change with the police funding discussion below, I would expect us to be able to reduce the proposed increase by even more than originally planned.

 

There are a few recommendations under the category of ‘Workplace Strategies’ that appear to be very easy changes. One example of those changes involves an adjustment to our Snow & Ice Control Work Schedule. The description as listed in the attachment says, “Implement a 12hr flexible workplan and staffing schedule to significantly reduce overtime costs and required labor
to deliver the Snow and Ice Control program.” Based on this description, we can continue to fulfill our obligations as outlined in our policy but reduce our costs by adjusting our schedule. In fact, this one seems so simple I actually am wondering why it already hasn’t been done. The various items listed under that category would save us approximately $7.5 million in 2019 alone which is the equivalent of a 0.5% tax decrease.

 

The largest impact listed in this report would be adjusting the proposed increase to the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) budget. On Tuesday night I was reviewing the budgets of the Calgary Police Service as they face similar challenges to the City of Edmonton. What jumped out at me was that if we were to approve the recommended budget for 2019-2022, the budget for EPS would be $424 million in 2022 which would put us $3 million more than Calgary’s Police budget in 2022. That would mean that even though our population is approximately 30% less, we would have a higher budget by 2022.

 

Every city is unique and so I appreciate that it’s not as simple as saying that our policing budget should be 30% less than Calgary’s policing budget but it is fair to question if we need to reflect on how that money would be used, especially when a new police chief will be starting early next year and Chief McFee has receives many accolades for introducing new ways of policing that have had positive results.

 

For the reasons above and many others, I think the recommended changes for police in the link below along with some other changes not listed should be adopted and will be putting forward a motion to make those changes. What does that mean? First and most importantly, the Edmonton Police Service would still see a budget increase each of the next four years. I’m not suggesting we cut or even freeze their budget – the City of Calgary proposed a freeze for their policing budget in both 2019 and 2020. What I’m suggesting is that we reduce how much the budget will increase. This would still provide our police service with an additional $34 million over the next four years and Council always has the ability to make adjustments each year. I would also propose that this can be revisited next year after Chief McFee has settled into his new position and had the opportunity to review how we are providing policing services in our city.

 

For reference, Calgary’s Police Service will see a 4.9% increase total over the next 4 years. From approximately $401 million to $421 million. Taking into account the savings identified in the report below, EPS would see an approximately 10% increase over the same 4 years from $337 million to $371 million. That would mean that Edmonton’s policing budget would be about 12% less than Calgary’s policing budget with a population that is around 30% less.

 

In the end, my goal is to make sure we can clearly understand the impact of any money we spend. This week we had a number of our other agencies, boards, and commissions (ex: Edmonton Public Library) present to Council with almost every one of them presenting a budget with no increase over the next four years. Recognizing that our emergency services (Police and Fire Rescue) are critical, I don’t believe it’s fair to propose no additional resources and that view is shared in both the City budget survey as well as my budget survey. By reducing the size of the increase, we would be saving approximately $54 million over the next four years.

 

Please take some time to review the list and share your feedback on any or all of the items listed. We still have about two weeks left scheduled for the budget but motions to make adjustments will begin as early as this upcoming Monday. Your feedback will continue to help shape how we approach this budget.

 

 

Written by A. Knack.

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