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.