'Difficult choices': Documents detail Reimagine Services cost-saving, revenue creation potential

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New documents released by the city to help guide council decision-making showcase how much potential cost savings or revenue generation could be created by implementing changes identified in Edmonton’s Reimagine Services project, like reducing programming or changing firefighter responses.

For more than a year, the city has been working on how to offset the negative financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession, through a series of proposals called the Reimage Services project.

The city contracted external consultant KPMG to produce business cases and options to help find cost savings and efficiencies for five of its largest budgeted service areas within the Reimagine Services portfolio.

Some of those cost savings could be charging for parking at some city sites and parks, eliminating recreational and cultural programming offered by the city, and changing how firefighters are deployed in the city.

Andre Corbould, city manager, said in a statement that city council will provide input on if they should be implemented. City council is scheduled to discuss them on Wednesday.

“As an open and transparent organization, we are providing council and Edmontonians with the consultants’ analysis that has helped inform some of the actions before council,” Corbould said. “Administration will continue to listen and take direction from council regarding next steps.

“In this current economic environment where we are looking at a current tax increase of 1.8 per cent for 2022 and additional projected COVID financial impacts, finding additional cost savings and revenues is essential,” he added.

“We known these options may require change for both Edmontonians and administration, and we recognize that difficult choices will need to be made to ensure we are using tax dollars entrusted to us in the best possible way.”

The city told CTV News Edmonton it paid KPMG $997,500 to do the research driving the business case reporting.

In a media availability on Monday, Mayor Don Iveson said the entire Reimagine Services project has been a useful exercise in reviewing how the city conducts its business.

“We should be constantly reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of how we deliver services, and even in some cases whether we should deliver services,” he said.

EXTERNAL MANAGEMENT FOR CITY-OWNED GOLF COURSES

One recommendation being put forward for council consideration is offloading the operation of Riverside, Victoria, and Rundle Park golf courses to the private sector.

According to the report, it would be challenging for a private operator to make Rundle Park Golf Course viable on its own since it has lower cost recovery. Therefore, it recommended the city consider outsourcing operations of all three golf courses as a long-term bundle contract while it still owns the courses.

Under this model, the city would charge the operator of the three courses' rent. The business case estimates the city could generate $300,000 to $500,000 per year in rent payments.

The report said that in order for that to happen, the operator of the courses would need to charge higher fees.

CHANGING FIREFIGHTER DEPLOYMENT AND CREW COMPOSITION

After reviewing Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS), the report made a series of recommendations to the city to lower costs associated with firefighting, including reducing the scope of medical calls firefighters respond to, implementing crew composition changes, and adjusting overnight staffing levels.

Pre-hospital medical care makes up almost 70 per cent of all calls EFRS responds to and medical call response is growing seven per cent per year, the report said.

The report compared how EFRS deployed resources compared to jurisdictions across Canada. It noted how Calgary and Ottawa's fire services stopped going to certain lower-priority calls to focus resources on lifesaving interventions. 

One recommendation was for EFRS to develop similar protocols and replace pumper trucks with three-person medical response units at two downtown stations that see higher amounts of medical calls.

“Moving to a specific medical response unit allows us to focus our resources more efficiently, while not reducing that service,” Edmonton fire chief Joe Zatylny told council on Monday. “It gives us better control over the resources that we put forward toward to these kinds of calls without reducing fire service.”

Another recommendation was to reduce the crew size for ladder units from four to two firefighters. According to the report, two-person teams would be sufficient to respond to events needing a ladder unit.

This would decrease the number of firefighters deployed in the city at one time from 218 to 200 and generate about $8.7 million in savings per year.

REDUCING RECREATION AND CULTURAL PROGRAMMING

Within the Reimagine Services framework, the city would consider reducing or eliminating the amount of registered recreation and cultural programming it delivers where costs are not being recovered. In addition, the city is considering using third-party providers for some programming to help lower costs.

According to the report, cost savings generated by city program reductions or alternative service delivery would depend on the amount of cut or offloaded programming. Cumulative five-year net saving estimates range from $900,000 to $2 million.

Examples of some of the programs the report identified for possible reduction are Red Cross Swim Kids, private swimming lessons, children and adult cooking classes, history programs like River Walk, Zoo Children’s programming, performing arts activities like improve or drama camp, some fitness classes, and the Snowshoe Club.