Further 5% in budget reductions sought by group of city councillors
CALGARY — A trio of city councillors want administration to find an additional five per cent in savings in the city’s operating budget, while at the same time shielding several departments, including police, fire, roads, transit and 911 operations, from any cuts.
It’s a plan other councillors call “ludicrous” and “impossible.”
In a press conference at city hall Wednesday, Couns. Sean Chu, Joe Magliocca and Jeromy Farkas said the proposed zero per cent tax increase is still too great for Calgarians to absorb.
A zero per cent increase would trim $50 million from the currently proposed budget. The group says their plan would boost those savings to $100 million.
“Non-essential improvement? Well, it is a lot from cemeteries all the way to parks, to staplers and paper clips, all the way through all the departments like we went through line-by-line on every department, and we found where we can reduce five per cent,” said Magliocca.
But when pressed for details on what services they propose should be cut, the three passed responsibility on to city mangers
“It is going to be up to the bureaucrats to figure that one out,” said Magliocca.
“We're just there to make sure that we reduce the five per cent. It'll be done, it can be done and it will be done because administration will be directed to do (it).”
City council is presently examining its 2020 operating budget, reviewing a report from administration that lays out the cuts needed to achieve either a 1.55 per cent or a zero per cent increase. According to city managers, both scenarios will result in cuts to emergency services, and transit.
Farkas, who represents Ward 11, says deep cuts to non-essential services are required to keep taxes in line.
“Obviously council’s pushed against the wall, we have to take a look at implementing reductions, even in a zero per cent scenario,” he said.
“If we go ahead with the tax shift, the typical homeowner is looking at at least a six or seven per cent tax increase.
“So what we've heard from our residents is that we need to focus on the need to maintain investment and key services like police and fire, and ask other areas of the city to do a little bit more.”
Council voted Tuesday evening to ask city staff to take a voluntary five per cent wage reduction.
Chu implied that would prevent job losses, saying, “Everybody takes some cut, everybody has a job.”
But when asked directly whether layoffs would be spared if city workers take a five per cent cut, Chu was non-committal.
“No, no, we can never promise that kind of stuff,” he said.
Other councillors lined up to shoot holes in the plan.
“You can't stand here and say, ‘Do this and offer no solutions,’ and yet you are continually going down this path of slash and burn,” said Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating.
“It's just ludicrous.”
Keating points out services the three councillors want to protect make up approximately 80 per cent of the city’s operating budget.
And he says finding a five per cent cut to the total budget from things like parks, water treatment and waste removal would gut those services.
“I would say in many cases you're talking about across-the-board slashing of many services, without evaluation, without determination of, are these the things that residents want to see and not see,” said Keating.
Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley took it further, saying, “It is impossible without completely cutting business units.”
“If Calgarians don't think that clean drinking water, and they don't think that garbage pickup, and if they don't think that park spaces are important, then they should reach out and support this,” he said.
Woolley says there’s a simple way for Chu, Magliocca, and Farkas to save taxpayers over $200 million.
“I find it deeply problematic that we would be giving $270 million to the Flames when we're looking at significantly cutting police, fire and transit to everyday Calgarians,” he said.
Woolley says there is still time for council to cancel the arena deal.
“Everything is on the table. My question is, are you prepared?” he said.
“I think there are a lot of significant conversations right now about what that looks like. The contract, as I'm aware, has not been signed with the Calgary Flames yet.”