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Is Calgary’s era of austerity over?
Unlikely, but the new mayor and some new councillors may be seeking to find an alternative to reckless cuts in the upcoming budget
Calgarians were given a preview of new councillors’ priorities Monday, when they discussed adjustments for the final year of the city’s four-year One Calgary budget plan, which provided a general outline of how the city plans to fund its services beginning in 2019.
Admin is recommending a 0.64% property tax hike, which could go as high as 1% if the Calgary Police Service (CPS) gets its desired $6-million budget top-up, just one year after the cops had agreed to forego $8 million of their budget to fund alternative response models for people in crisis.
City manager David Duckworth said the city’s Solutions for Achieving Value and Excellence (SAVE) austerity program, which was intended to create an artificial tax freeze for the upcoming budget, has cut to the bone, and any reductions past the $60 million already cut would have a significant impact on municipal services.
“We’re pretty much at a breaking point,” Duckworth told reporters at a press conference after Monday’s meeting. “The cupboards are pretty bare when it comes to additional savings.”
Even with the proposed tax increase, about 40% of city services will be operating with a net base budget below 2018 levels, city CFO Carla Male acknowledged.
For this reason, Mayor Jyoti Gondek left the door open to a greater tax increase, if necessary, to fund the council's priorities.
“Serving the best interests of Calgarians should not be stuck on a number,” Gondek said at the same presser, promising some “deep conversations” about council’s funding priorities.
Indeed, Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott suggested it will take a lot more than a 0.64% tax hike to fund the expansion of city services he was elected to facilitate.
“The reality is that the target of this budget was as minimal property tax increase as possible … But that alone is not going to address the many needs many of us discussed in the past six months,” Walcott said, citing transit funding as a crucial investment for getting people around the city while also addressing the climate crisis.
In council chambers, Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner emphasized the need to plan for “returning transit to pre-pandemic levels,” while Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian highlighted the importance of investments in enhanced pedestrian safety — the topic of her master’s thesis.
Coun. Dan McLean, who successfully ran to the right of Diane Colley-Urquhart in Ward 13 in October’s election, said a small tax increase would be “palatable” to him. “A freeze would be nice, but … I think as long as we don’t add a whole bunch of more things to [the budget] we should be fine.”
Notably, the budget adjustments proposed by admin don’t include further funding for the city’s 10-year, $1-billion downtown revitalization plan that council approved in April alongside a $200-million initial investment, an omission Gondek said was an “oversight” of the previous council.
We’ll get a clearer picture of where everyone stands on Nov. 22, when budget deliberation week begins.
In other news …
CPS Chief Mark Neufeld told CTV News that 96% of CPS staff submitted their vaccination status by a Nov. 1 deadline, with 86% of respondents indicating they’re fully vaxxed.
Assuming those 4% who haven’t declared their status are unvaxxed, Neufeld said the cops are “preparing for the impacts of a further reduction in staffing.”
Perhaps they won’t need that extra $6 million after all.
Jean, the former Wildrose leader who lost the 2017 UCP leadership race to Kenney, says he’ll run again if Kenney fails a leadership review slated for this spring.
Last week, Jean announced he’ll be seeking the UCP nomination in the byelection for the riding of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, which former MLA Laila Goodridge vacated to run for the federal Conservatives in September’s election, winning the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding.
“If Jason Kenney goes forward as the leader of the UCP, we will lose,” Jean said. “And Rachel Notley with Justin Trudeau will reshape our province into something that we will not recognize.”
Edited by Ximena González
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