Reimagining services: City to explore privatizing golf courses and changes to firefighter medical calls

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Riverside, Victoria and Rundle Park golf courses could be under new management after council decided to “reimagine” some city services.

City council voted on the fate of 17 proposals for cost-savings or revenue generation opportunities through the Reimagine Services project on Wednesday.

One of those included the city assessing private sector interest for operating the three golf courses. The land and capital assets of the courses would remain fully public while private operators would manage the facilities and pay a rental fee to the city, under the proposal put to councillors.

The city estimated it can generate $300,000 to $500,000 per year in rent payments by doing so.

Privatization would impact six full-time permanent positions with the city and 20 temporary or seasonal employees, and could raise golfing rates and food prices at the courses.

The city will now accept requests for proposals before deciding whether to advance new management arrangements for the city-owned golf courses.

MAJORITY OF COST-CUTTING PROPOSALS GIVEN GREEN LIGHT 

Of the original 18 proposals under the Reimagine Services portfolio, councillors only moved ahead with 15, including reducing the number of cultural and recreation programs offered, bringing in more self-service payment kiosks at recreation centres, and potentially reducing the number of leases for non-for-profit groups.

A recommendation from the Reimagine Services project was halted Monday when council voted unanimously to pause implementation of paid parking at five sites in Edmonton, including city attractions and public parks.

More than 100 jobs could be lost as the city moves forward on privatizing maintenance and cleaning of transit buses, after council approved that recommendation.

'MORE WORK NEEDED': COUNC. CATERINA

Council voted unanimously for city administration to pause efforts to change Edmonton Fire Rescue Services' (EFRS) response to medical calls and complete further analysis.

Counc. Tony Caterina said three of the recommendations needed further discussion and data-sharing with city administration, EFRS and the Edmonton Fire Fighter's Union before he could vote on changing pumper truck composition or guiding principles for future capital investment for fire stations or equipment.

“We want to make sure that we do this right,” Caterina said.

The councillor was surprised to see such significant changes to firefighter service, and and suggested in a project that was about finding efficiencies for the city alongside changes to parks, golf courses, fleet management, or recreation centres.

“Fire is not in that category because of their designation as an essential service,” he said. “They affect every single person in the city.”

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

Edmonton Fire Chief Joe Zatylny told council Wednesday that the pilot project was useful to help ensure that no frontline firefighter positions were lost but that EFRS assets could be deployed more efficiently across the city.

Counc. Scott McKeen spoke in favour of the recommendation as it would help preserve EFRS firefighting capacity in places of the city hit hardest by the opioid epidemic.

Mayor Don Iveson echoed the sentiments by reminding councillors the proposals to EFRS were never about making cuts to fire service.

“This is about asking is there a more efficient and effective way to deploy scarce resources, in light of fiscal pressures that we have and in light of the changing demand profile and demographic form of our city.

“We have to be unafraid to try some different things,” he said.

Changes to EFRS as proposed in the Reimagine Services project will be brought back for council consideration during their 2022 budget adjustment meetings in the fall.