No more trimming: City of Edmonton to find more money for turf, horticulture services

The City of Edmonton operates turf and horticulture services, such as mowing grass and weeding. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC - image credit)
The City of Edmonton operates turf and horticulture services, such as mowing grass and weeding. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC - image credit)

The City of Edmonton will figure out a plan to raise the respective turf and horticulture budgets to pre-pandemic levels, which council may consider during its springtime budget talks, following a unanimous vote during last week's community and public services committee meeting.

The 5-0 vote came after city administration completed a report that examined the decreased budgets and increasing demand for services like mowing, weeding and flower planting since 2019.

"We want to focus on increasing those resources, [so] that we can actually properly maintain our boulevards, our playing fields and other assets that we own, and keep our city clean, pristine and enjoyable for everyone," Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told CBC News.

"We heard clearly from Edmontonians that we were not meeting their expectations because of the budget cuts of the past."

City administration wrote a report analyzing the resources dedicated to and demand for turf and horticulture since 2019, and presented it to the community and public services committee, which is in charge of delivering city services.

The analysis found that, as the city has grown, so has the areas its turf and horticulture workers have to cover. The budgets for each service decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic; they have rebounded, but are still below pre-pandemic spending levels — and administration projected they would stay so for the next few years.

Administration cannot meet the target service levels as a result, the report says. Some field teams have maintained their areas as often as desired, but the work has been less thorough, such as trimming weeds instead of cutting them out at the root, to keep on schedule.

"They're being asked to do more with less," said Eric Lewis, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 30, whose membership includes City of Edmonton operations staff.

Lewis spoke during last week's committee meeting, relaying concerns the union has heard from workers, such as trimming weeds — as opposed to taking them out by the root, or using herbicide — can lead to more weeds.

Tastawiyiniwak Ward Coun. Karen Principe, the committee's chair, said the administration's report confirmed the issues she has heard from her residents.

"Often, people take pride in the way their community looks — and if it looks kept properly then there's more pride," Principe told CBC News.

"Many people feel that it is a core service and that that's what we should be focusing on."

The committee passed two motions last week.

Council first directed city administration to lay out how the turf and horticulture operating budgets could increase by about $1.3 million and $970,000, respectively, on an ongoing basis until they return to 2019 levels. The administration must also prepare a capital budget profile for up to $400,000 in capital costs.

Council will consider the potential operating budget increases during its supplemental operating budget adjustment in April. The capital profile is due for the supplemental capital budget adjustment in June.

The second motion directed administration to prepare a package and capital profile that would further increase funding so both programs could deliver better service, as outlined in the administration's report. They would be due for the fall supplemental budget adjustments.

In November, council approved a 6.6 per cent property tax increase for 2024. Meanwhile, administration is trying to find $240 million the city could save in its four-year budget.

Sohi and Principe hope the city could use part of those savings — instead of levying higher taxes — to pay for budget increases for turf and horticulture services, should council approve them.

The extra money would allow administration to buy more equipment and hire more hands, so the services can do their work properly, Sohi said.

Principe noted, however, that any additional spending would not yield 2019 service levels, because there are more areas to cover now.

City administration continues to implement initiatives that could deliver services more efficiently, the report says. Among them, a project that uses GPS technology to track work and accomplishments in real-time, which aims to improve data accuracy and resource allocations, among other things.

Administration plans to evaluate and reclassify spaces it maintains and decommission "underperforming areas" to adjust to its existing budgets, the report says.

The review and restructuring is expected to take about a year to finish. Changes would be in place for the summer of 2025, the report says.

Read the full report: