Major changes needed as COVID-19 exacerbates financial struggles: City of Edmonton
EDMONTON -- Something’s gotta give as the City of Edmonton’s financial reality becomes clearer.
Wednesday, city staff presented its Reimagine - Strategic Response to COVID-19 report to Council. It outlines the impact multiple recessions and the pandemic have had on the city’s finances.
“This pandemic layers on an unprecedented challenge on the back of an already stressed economy,” Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin told council.
“To put it bluntly, during the 14 years of oil and gas booms experienced in Edmonton from 2000 to 2014, the city expanded to a size that we can no longer afford.”
This will likely mean cuts to services the city provides like waste collection, transit and recreation facilities and programs.
"Part of any great crisis is there is a big reset, and those who seize that reset and find new opportunities do better," said Mayor Don Iveson.
City staff project government grants and corporate revenues will fall in coming years, at the same time residents will expect more.
"We've stemmed the bleeding for this year, but these structural challenges to our budget, some of them will last until there's a vaccine and perhaps beyond," said Iveson.
The city is experiencing pressure to spur economic development, support businesses, boost social services and provide online access to existing services.
“This might be provocative, which is the purpose of this report, but do we need to continue to try to be everything to everyone?” Laughlin asked councillors.
Still, staff are taking an optimistic stance looking forward, attempting to position the city to emerge from the pandemic “stronger than before.”
Doing so will require “bold action”, “continuous adaptation” and “tough, uncomfortable and unorthodox decisions,” according to the report.
The deficit in years to come could be as high was $250 million, but the Mayor is adamant taxes won't see a spike to pay for it.
The first steps will be taken after Council’s summer break. Starting in August, administration recommends reducing and eliminating services, reducing full time positions and prioritizing major capital projects - all while attempting to limit tax increases.