On Friday September 18, City Council’s Audit Committee will discuss the City Productivity and Performance Audit (pages 49-126 found here). This report includes many concerning findings. Of note, since 2017, the City’s workforce budget has increased by 232 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) positions, and personnel costs have increased by $63M. There has been a shift to supervising smaller groups, towards more managers and fewer front line workers.
During our budget deliberations in December 2019, I spoke about the need for reductions to our 2020 workforce budgets. Due to labour negotiations at that time, action was not taken for 2020 but I did speak to my intention to bring a motion forward this year to reduce the cost of our workforce budget by 5% in 2021.
A Council discussion and vote at the start of 2020 would have given Administration plenty of time to look at options for thoughtful 2021 adjustments and to start the transformational change that our taxpayers want to see. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and the requirement to act in an urgent manner delayed the opportunity for that discussion. The financial impacts of Covid-19 on the City’s budgets have made the need for the City of Edmonton to get its finances in order more urgent than ever.
This report and our current financial crisis brings stark clarity to the need for a discussion about the size of the City’s workforce.
We already needed to discuss how much we spend operating this City. Whether measured by population, GDP or the size of our economy, how much government can Edmonton afford? What should our operating budget be? And how do we get down to that number?
As I said months ago, the City’s personnel costs were projected to be over $1.6B in 2020. Almost 60% of our operating budget is the cost of City employed personnel. A 5% reduction would take our workforce budgets to 2016/2017 levels. While this is not trivial, I do think it is a reasonable goal.
My suggestion to cut costs is not made lightly. It’s easy to talk about costs and FTEs when we focus on the numbers. But this discussion is about people. Employees of the city. Our neighbors and friends. As we move forward, we need to act with compassion and understanding.
There are a lot of people hurting, wondering how they will afford the next grocery bill, the next rent or mortgage payment, the next heating bill. I have been in the position of laying off long-term employees simply because the organization could no longer afford them. We need to use more imagination than that.
I still do not believe it is the job of City Council to tell our City Manager where to find that cost reduction. Our City Manager and the senior leadership team need to take creative approaches. Job sharing, voluntary retirement, voluntary salary reductions and unpaid vacation days are all examples.
But the Auditor’s report clearly indicates that the City of Edmonton has too many managers, too many layers, too many supervisors without people to supervise. That is certainly a good place to start.
In response to this report from the Auditor, I will continue to advocate for a significant reduction in the cost of the City’s workforce during Council’s budget deliberations this fall.
Not taking action means another property tax increase next year, when this Council has repeatedly been told enough is enough. And I can’t support that.
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