Fire, police & transit hit hard in proposed plan to cut $60M from city budget
Published Friday, July 19, 2019 7:02AM MDT
Last Updated Friday, July 19, 2019 2:00PM MDT
Major frontline services are on the chopping block as Calgary city council continues to look for upwards of $60 million in savings from this year’s municipal budget.
Administration has recommended cuts across the board with a proposed plan to slash spending on 48 departments and services.
Some of the largest proposed cuts include $7.6 million from fire and emergency response and $7 million from police.
Administration is also recommending a $6.8 million reduction from public transit, $6.2 million cut from corporate programs and a spending cut of just under $5 million from streets.
The belt tightening is in an effort to reduce the property tax burden faced by small businesses.
Some local shops have already had to close their doors after seeing their property taxes rise by four times the amount assessed last year, due to a decrease in downtown property values.
In response, Calgary City Council voted in favour of $60 million in budget cuts. The hope would then be to combine that money with a one-time funding of $70.9 million to provide a tax rebate program for small businesses. The goal is to reduce taxes by 10 per cent from what they were in 2018.
City council will be asked to approve the budget cut package at a meeting on Tuesday.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, the proposed cuts remain a tall order for council, especially when having to consider major impacts to frontline services.
Ward 3 Councillor, Jyoti Gondek called it 'an absolutely impossible situation' but ultimately blamed past councils for not paying enough attention to Calgary’s economic situation.
“In 2015 they knew this was going to be at least a 10-year recovery process,” Gondek said.
“The flags were raised, nobody did anything. Instead they did piece-meal solutions and borrowed from reserves that's why we're in the shape that we're in and that’s why Calgarians are suffering.”
She says council must now work to find savings or generate some of its own revenue. She called administration’s proposed cuts another short term solution but was pleased council voted to have a tax shift working group.
Gondek will now meet with experts from outside council at a meeting on Friday morning, with the hope of finding a long-term solution to Calgary’s property tax burden on small business.
Meanwhile, some city hall critics have a different solution to Calgary’s property tax burden.
The Calgary and District Labour Council (CDLC) called out the city for proposing cuts to frontline services at the same time it approved four major projects.
Earlier this year, council approved the BMO Centre, the Arts Commons, the field house and the Calgary Flames arena, along with 14 new neighbourhoods.
CDLC President, Alexander Shevalier, says city administration advised council to approve just one major project and only four neighbourhoods.
He added that all major projects should be scrapped before impacting services, which Calgarians rely on, and the Calgary Flames should not receive any cash at a time like this.
“How much money are we going to give the Flames for this new arena and why is it we’re co template for giving money to the Flames?” Shevalier said.
“We’re straining city resources at a time were actively cutting the rest of the budget and it seems to me there’s this almost schizophrenia in council priorities and I think they very much have to look at them.”
According to the CDLC, a $14 billion devaluation of the downtown core resulted in the city losing out on $257 million in property tax revenue.
“The city also lost $125 million in franchise fees and this is on top of approximately $600 million in cuts the city has made over the last number of years,” Shevalier said.
The CDLC now recommends the city work with the province to build a stronger taxation system in the future that is not only predictable for business, but also meets the needs of Calgary.
To view the city's Summary of Proposed Reduction by Service, click HERE or scroll the document below.