Over 100 layoffs coming as city council passes $60M budget cut plan
In a late night session on Tuesday city council passed a package of cuts that will affect 230 city workers and result in the layoff of more than 100 employees.
While the exact positions and departments have not been made public, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the layoffs would be proportional to cuts and would begin 'soonish.'
The three largest cuts are to Calgary Transit ($9 million), police ($7 million) and fire and emergency services ($7million).
"The cuts that we made today are effective for the rest of the year. So we’ll have to see those service reductions happen quite quickly or we will not be able to achieve the savings for the rest of the year," said Nenshi.
The majority of the cuts to transit are in management and there is also a cut of about 88,000 service hours.
"I don’t believe that there are any routes being cancelled, but you are going to see a little bit more spacing between trains and buses, particularly in off peak hours," said Nenshi.
Donna Ball lives in the downtown core and relies on Access Calgary to get her to appointments. Despite needing a scooter to get around, she’s new to the service. "At first] They told me I could have it in the winter or when it rained or something, when it was icy. [Recently] they’ve told me i could take it all the time."
"But I only want it for when i went to the doctor. I have to go to the Rockyview Hospital and it costs a lot of money to take a taxi that far."
Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee is an Anglican priest and head of the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good. She says no matter what council says about doing the least harm to the vulnerable, the cuts in service will never affect Calgarians equally. "They say they are cutting underperforming routes, and what that usually means is routes out into suburbs and lower income neighbourhoods late at night," said Greenwood-Lee. "If you think about who’s on those buses, it’s not middle class people coming back from dinner parties, it’s shift workers who rely on transit to get home after their one or two shifts at their one or two jobs that day."
"We really need to think about who that’s going to affect and what other options they have."
Calgary Police Commission chair Brian Thiessen said the cuts will be tough to absorb, but will not result in the loss of any frontline officers.
“We are concerned about the future of the Calgary Police Service,” said Thiessen in a presentation to council ahead of the decision.
“This reduction will have impacts on the organization. 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.”
As part of the cuts, a Calgary Fire Department pilot program will be cancelled. An SUV loaded with medical supplies was being sent to respond to some medical calls but now a fire truck will be dispatched instead. It is a change that saves on staffing and equipment costs without changing the qualifications of first responders.
"The medical response unit out of 1 Station downtown did 2,900 calls last year. That means that engine in number 1 station is going to have to pick up the majority of those calls," said Mike Henson, president of the Calgary Firefighters Association. "Number 1's engine will not be available to respond to building alarms, fire calls, car accidents because it will be doing medical calls that is has to pick up."
Two fitness facilities were also among the cuts but council put in $800,000 in one-time money until they can more closely study the impact of the pending closures.
Those closures will likely go ahead next year but the exact facilities have not been identified publicly.
Despite the blowback and the admittedly 'terrible' optics of the cuts package coming hot on the heels of a $550 million new arena deal, the mayor says the process is an important one and that the money comes from different, and legally separated, parts of the budget.
“Doing $60 million in the middle of the budget year was not my choice, it was council’s ultimate wisdom to go ahead and do that, but I’m going to suggest to you that looking for those efficiencies and setting those targets is something we need to continuously do,” said Nenshi.