City Council Highlights
In April City Council made decisions on the City’s spring and summer operations. There were a series of principles that the City used in this work, with public health and safety as the most important. You can read more about these principles in the City’s report.
To get through this pandemic, staff at the City have been fully engaged in adapting services and making cuts and reinvestments where it makes sense. Our goal is to make prudent decisions that balance the need to keep quality of life up for residents by ensuring we fix potholes, sweep streets, mow parks, look after the urban forest, and keep as many people working as possible with infrastructure projects while also ensuring we have a financial strategy that tries to minimize the challenges for the City and residents in future years.
The financial impacts for the City are quite significant, and this is something we are taking very seriously. Without taking any actions, it is anticipated that there would be a $20.2M hit if the restrictions are lifted by June 30, and a $42.9M impact if they persist until the end of the year. Although these are just projections, they are certainly sobering ones. What follows are some of the impacts to City services and some of the changes that will be made to help get through this pandemic.
The City of Saskatoon is implementing a series of actions to help reduce costs. These include:
- discretionary hiring
- non-essential spending freeze
- travel and training reductions
- use of fiscal stabilization reserves
With these changes and the ones described in the rest of this post, the deficit is projected at $10M-$32.9M, depending on when restrictions are lifted.
Additionally, we will continue to work with other levels of government to find solutions, because the policy and financing solutions that the City can use alone are much more limited than what can be achieved together.
Spring street sweeping will occur as normal, and it will be rolling out in the coming weeks. However, due to a late spring and some operational changes due to COVID-19, we’re anticipating it will take a bit longer to complete. Spring street sweeping normally wraps up in June, but this year it will only be completed in July.
In the coming days, the schedule will be posted to saskatoon.ca/sweeping.
2020 Capital Program
The City’s 2020 construction plan will continue, and this will be an important way of keeping Saskatoon’s economy going with almost $400M of work planned. I believe that continuing with this work is a strategic move for the City to keep up with critical infrastructure maintenance. The only work that is being impacted is the 2020 lead line replacement program (which involves going into people’s houses), which will be delayed to later in the year or 2021.
All contractors are being asked for COVID-19 safety plans so that all work is being done in line with provincial and federal regulations.
The City will be continuing with street repairs as planned, but will be able to save $250K in capital costs. This means that things like pothole repair, back lane maintenance, sidewalk repairs, and crack filling will happen like normal, with an emphasis on high-traffic roads due to lower traffic volumes.
Because of lower fuel and input costs, there is even the potential to get done greater work with the same amount of investment. This will be monitored to see if there can be additional efficiencies found.
Right now, Saskatoon Transit is not charging fares because buses are loading from the rear doors. There are enhanced cleaning protocols, protection for drivers, reduced seating, and Transit supervisors on buses and at terminals to help ensure people are only riding buses for essential travel. There has been an 80% decrease of ridership on regular routes and a 90% decrease in Access Transit ridership.
At this time, there is no anticipated timeline to return operations to normal, but Transit will be responding to changes in the public health order of the province.
Weekly garbage pick-up will be resuming within the next couple of weeks. There was a delay in getting this started due to uncertainty as to whether or not it could happen safely with the realities of COVID-19. Additionally, two originally planned household hazardous waste collection days had to be cancelled. No other changes are anticipated to waste management, and green bin pick up, landfill operations (with no cash payments accepted), and compost and recycling depots will continue.
The two cancelled events and the slight delay in implementing weekly garbage pickup will save $109K.
Many staff members who work in Community Development have been redeployed to assist with the community-wide response to COVID-19. These staff members are helping community agencies and more vulnerable residents throughout this pandemic and are adapting their work to be responsive to the current needs of the community. This is critical work, and I believe it’s important for the City to play a role with this.
This is an area of uncertainty for the City, because we do not know when it might be possible to open Leisure Centres, what sorts of measures will be in place as this gradually happens, and what the uptake from the public will be. The services in this area will be significantly reduced for quite some time. It is also anticipated that paddling pools and Nutrien Playland will not be open in 2020.
This area is in flux, and the City will be nimble and responsive to changes made by the provincial government and the continued need for community safety.
Golf Courses, Campgrounds, Sports Fields, and the Zoo
The provincial government has already issued direction for golf courses and campgrounds, so now work is underway to ensure that safety protocols are in place. Like with the Leisure Centres, the City needs to be nimble in responding to how we can operate these amenities, along with sports fields and the Saskatoon Zoo. There will be reduced staffing in these areas, and this responds to both the restrictions on operations and a desire to save money.
This year, parks maintenance will have to decrease to meet safety requirements, especially in the transportation of staff. This means fewer staff will be hired, and it means the City will save over $1M in costs. Because there will be less mowing and maintenance than normal, staff will be deployed more strategically to maintain services in high-priority areas to keep parks looking as good as possible.