Edmonton mulls boost to grass-cutting and gardening budget

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Reversing the pandemic-era trim to Edmonton’s grass-cutting and gardening budget was the topic of discussion at city hall Monday during council’s first public debate since a gunman opened fire in the civic building last month.

More weed-whackers, lawnmowers and pruning shears could be out in full swing trimming Edmonton’s public parks, sports fields and shrubbery beds by late summer if council agrees to spend more money this year at an upcoming meeting. The city is looking at a $1.3-million ongoing increase for turf maintenance and $900,000 for horticulture operations starting this calendar year.

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Members of council’s community and public services committee gave the plan a unanimous green light Monday pending final approval by city council. This would return funding to the amounts set in 2019 before the previous council cut the budget to find savings amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Council would also request city administrators bring back a spending plan for next year’s budget so mowing, weed removal, pruning and trimming can happen even more frequently.

The committee meeting was held virtually and city hall remains closed to the public.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he hears Edmontonians are concerned about taxes. Council’s goal is to keep taxes affordable, and they have been looking for ways to improve core services, he said.

“Maintenance of the boulevards, our streets, turf maintenance, horticultural maintenance, is another area that needs significant improvements because this is a core service,” he said during the meeting.

Coun. Jennifer Rice said the current service levels are not what Edmontonians expect.

“My office actually received lots of emails regarding waste control, turf management, horticulture programs,” she said. “What I heard is we really expect this service to be improved, to really care about our greenspaces and meet the needs and our city’s expectations and for Edmontonians.”

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Less money to cut more grass

But matching past funding won’t mean the same amount of maintenance as before.

Landscaping funds have been stretched further over the past five years with more space needing to be maintained. City crews look after greenspace in parks, sports fields, grass along roads and by neighbourhood walkways, in ditches and along freeways and wild parkland. They also do gardening — there are shrub beds and trees around Downtown, business improvement areas, and select parks that are maintained by city workers.

According to a staff report, turf crews are responsible for 197 more hectares and horticulture crews for 334,621 more square metres of land than in 2019.

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The second part of the mayor’s motion — increasing spending beyond 2019 levels — would allow for council to discuss how the city can catch up with the growth.

“And how we add more resources so service levels increase on a consistent basis, (so Edmontonians) see our city to be clean, our city to be well-maintained, and they can enjoy the quality public service and see the enhancement,” Sohi said.

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Some staff, council return to city hall

Meanwhile, despite city hall’s closure to the public, some councillors attending the virtual meeting did so from within city hall. Video from the meeting showed the mayor, framed with a backdrop of flags, inside his city hall office.

“City council is deeply grateful for the professionalism, dedication and hard work (of staff) during this difficult time,” the mayor said during the meeting. “Please know that we remain committed to serving Edmonton while ensuring the people who make that work possible are healthy and able to heal. We could not do our work without them.”

Councillors Anne Stevenson and Andrew Knack also appeared, in the video, to be inside the building.

Administrative staff who work in city hall are being given the opportunity to return in-person if they desire to do so and the city has psychological support programs available.

No date for city hall’s full reopening has been given.

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