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City council approves $60M budget cut plan after hearing from police, concerned citizens
*Note: A complete list of the CIty of Calgary proposed budget cuts appears below*
After nearly two hours of hearing from people concerned over the impact of cuts, mainly to Calgary Transit, on Tuesday, council approved the budget cut package put forward by city staff by a vote of 13-1. Druh Farrell was the lone councillor to vote against the program and Ray Jones was absent.
City administration recommended cuts across the board with a plan to slash the budgets of 48 departments and services. A total of 233 positions will be impacted (including positions currently vacant) and 115 current employees of the City's 15,000 staff members will be affected.
More than $7 million will be cut from the fire department and emergency service’s budget and another $7 million from the Calgary Police Service.
Calgary Police Commission chair Brian Thiessen and Acting CPS Chief Paul Cook addressed council Tuesday evening, outlining where the $7 million in cuts could be made but cautioning the potential fallout from the reduction.
"This reduction will have impacts on the organization," explained Thiessen. "It can only be achieved by reducing training and equipment, permanently eliminating the auxiliary cadet program with 50 part time positions, reducing the number of management positions, putting a freeze on civilian positions, reducing the capacity to invest in technology and supports to solve crime."
"Any cuts greater than $7 million will impact public safety and employee positions."
Cook told council that he understands and respects the "critical and important decisions" council has to make during difficult economic times, before adding that citizens want an increase in police visibility and proactive policing of crime and traffic enforcement.
"Our membership, both sworn and civilian, are near exhaustion. We have increases in crime in the last five years with our sex crimes are up 40 per cent. To put that in context at a people level, I have 15 men and women who work every day in support of victims and making sure we're victim centred and focused. Some of those 15, to deal with that 40 per cent increase, they manage 26 files individually."
Cook adds that the $7 million in cuts "will come at a risk and at a consequence, but not to public safety."
The cuts includes taking nearly $9 million out of transit, which could include $2.4 million in cuts to Access Calgary.
"I take no joy in what we've done today," said Mayor Nenshi, late Tuesday evening ahead of the vote. "We've got to get better at this. Council had many, many, many opportunities to have this conversation and had this conversation many, many times, was presented with many, many options. Ultimately, we allowed the perfect to get in the way of the good. I take a lot of responsibility for that. I think we could have been a lot more clear in the implication of the various options that were coming forth."
More than 100 people packed into council chambers on Tuesday afternoon to listen to the debate, and in an unusual move, many were allowed to present their concerns to council, over the objections of staff. There is no requirement for councillors to listen to presentations on budget discussions.
Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee with the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good, says she worries about what the $9 million in proposed transit cuts will do to people struggling to get by. She says her church began working to help a single mother experiencing homelessness a few years ago. The woman and her child are “thriving now,” she said, but the cuts could threaten other in similar circumstances.
“They lived for years on $800 a month and transit was their lifeline,” she said. “And so when city council talks about cutting transit, it’s people like her that I think about.”
Prior to councilo's approval of the cuts, Franco Terrazzano, the Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, called the proposed cuts "minor" and said more should be coming. “We need to be right up front right now, this $60 million out of a $4-billion budget isn’t a deep cut. The sky is not falling here, it represents about 1.5 per cent of the budget,” he said.
“Businesses, they need tax relief. We’ve heard through the downturn stories of businesses shutting their doors, and one of those reasons is because of the higher property tax bill. And residents need tax relief too, it’s not just businesses that are struggling."
Terrazzano pointed at pensions as another place to take the axe. “The mayor has two pensions, you’d think that would be on the chopping block ready to go,” he said.“You have over 300 city employees that are getting three pensions, you have hundreds more city employees that are getting two pensions, why are we not scrapping the triple pension club, why are we not scrapping the double pension club?”