Edmonton council to vote on squashing planned parking fees at five popular sites following community pushback

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Edmontonians are fighting back against 18 planned actions to shift city services in an effort to save up to $16 million over five years.

One of the City of Edmonton’s planned “Reimagine Services” actions is to implement parking fees at five amenities starting in the spring of next year. Emily Murphy Park, Rafters’ Landing, Muttart Conservatory, Fort Edmonton Park and the Telus World of Science are slated for paid parking and projected to generate $1.7 million in revenue for the city from 2022-2026.

But the idea has faced significant pushback from the public since it was announced earlier this month and councillors are considering scrapping the plan. Ward 2 Coun. Bev Esslinger said she heard clearly from residents that they want parks to remain openly accessible without any fees and has put a motion forward to cancel the idea. Council is scheduled to vote on the motion July 5.

“Many of them feel that the city should be open, they feel that we have to consider not everyone can afford it in these economic times. Through COVID-19, outside is the one area they feel very strongly that they want to have access to,” she said in an interview with Postmedia. “Edmontonians value their parks. They’re proud of their green spaces in the river valley and they want access and they want to make sure that everyone in the city has access.”

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Council’s executive committee held a special meeting Wednesday morning to hear from 17 residents, offering concerns about all 18 proposals as well as the lack of public engagement before these ideas were presented to council. All of the actions scheduled to be taken don’t require council approval and will move ahead unless directed otherwise.

City manager Andre Corbould said the planned actions were deemed feasible moving into the next four-year budget cycle in an effort to minimize future tax increases. If some of the plans are removed, like the implementation of paid parking, Corbould said other options will need to be looked at to make up that planned revenue.

“Fee increases are unpopular, but revenues are necessary to keep programs running,” Corbould told councillors. “Some of these ideas are unpopular but we have to do something to live within the budget that you have set.”

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Union presidents representing city employees fought back against the ideas to privatize services, including contracting out operations of the proposed Lewis Farms Community Recreation Centre when it is built and issuing an expression of interest to move forward with the private operation of the city’s Rundle, Victoria and Riverside golf courses.

Civic Service Union Local 52 president Lanny Chudyk took issue with the lack of consultation with the organization as employees would be impacted if all of the proposals were to be implemented.

“I would suggest rather than a revenue problem, we have an administration that has a spending problem,” he said. “Once again, we aim to hit front-line staff that do the actual work while avoiding the real problem — the bloated, over-paid managerial structure. Council needs to exercise their oversight of this administration. Moving to privatized . . . does not align with what a modern, forward-looking progressive organization is.”

The business cases leading to the recommended service change actions were completed by consulting firm KPMG for just under $1 million. Postmedia was originally told these business cases wouldn’t be released publicly, but on Wednesday Corbould said he intends for them to released as soon as a review is completed under the FOIP Act.

Council will meet July 5 to debate the proposal to remove parking fees from the plan moving forward and any other potential changes before the city moves ahead with implementation.

duscook@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dustin_cook3

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