Layoffs, pool closures: The cost of a potential 0 per cent tax increase in 2021
EDMONTON -- A pitch for a zero-per cent tax increase – the lowest, if passed, since 1997 – was before Edmonton city council Wednesday.
According to city administration, in order to give residents no property tax increase in 2021, councillors would have to find $64 million in savings in the city's base budget – and that's before pandemic costs are factored in.
The cost of those savings could be layoffs and service cuts, from scrapping the Green Shack program for a year and pausing holiday activities like the popular Mill Woods Canada Day fireworks show, to reinstating admission fees at outdoor pools.
The Scona, Eastglen and Oliver pools, as well as the Oliver and Tipton arenas, could be closed, which would save the city $1.4 million in operating costs.
Grass cutting and employee overtime would be reduced, too.
Administration says the city could save nearly $1 million by reducing bus service starting in May, and $6.4 million by reducing financial support to Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues and social development programs like the Community Investment and Community Facility Partner Capital grants.
Another $2 million in cost-savings could be achieved by reducing the number of alley pothole repairs, culvert repairs and the amount of slab levelling crews do next year.
Interim city manager Adam Laughlin called the recommendations difficult while presenting them to councillors on Wednesday.
“We do not make these recommendations lightly and understand they come with real impacts to our employees and the citizens of Edmonton.”
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson echoed the sentiment, saying he didn't want, for example, to see community facilities shut down but that it may be the best option.
“They’re not particularly cost efficient compared to new facilities, in some cases, we’ve built down the street, like the Commonwealth rec centre, or in other cases, where the facility is really at end of life, like Scona Pool, and deserves to be replaced,” he told media.
“We’ll try to strike the right balance.”
Council will hold public hearings on the budget Dec. 3 and receive a report on COVID-19 impacts on Dec. 7.
The latter report could greatly influence budget decisions, which will be made over Dec. 9 and 11.
The last time Edmontonians had no tax increase was in 1997.
“Zero is actually an erosion against inflation and potentially erosion against growth pressures. And the city’s growing more slowly because of the economic circumstances we’re in, and inflation is lower in many areas, but we’re also dealing with PPE costs and other extraordinary cost pressures, and so zero is not something you can do without significant pain and impacts to service levels,” Iveson noted.
“This year, we felt it was important because of the pressure particularly businesses are under, but also many households with the highest unemployment rate in the country."
The capital city's unemployment rate was 12 per cent in October, a 0.6 per cent improvement over September.
The mayor commented, "We wanted to work hard and show people that we heard that concern and share that pain as a city – but it doesn’t come without a cost to service levels. And it’s not something that people should assume that can be done every year.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson