While the raw dollar value of upcoming Calgary budget cuts is $60 million, the impact will feel like nearly double that, say some city councillors.
As part of a business tax-relief package approved in June, administration will come back with a proposed $60 million in operating budget savings, paired with $70.9 million in cash from the city’s Fiscal Stability Reserve (FSR).
That slate of proposed cuts will come back at Monday’s council meeting (July 22).
There’s already been lots of talk on where these cuts should come; some say it should be easy to find $60 million, others say it will be tough to make the right cuts because there’s not enough time to properly examine where more cash can be found.
Coun. Druh Farrell said citizens will see a noticeable impact on services because the proposed buffet of cuts come with only five months left in the year.
“It’s absolutely more impact than if we would have made this decision when we were discussing our budget in November (2018),” Farrell said.
“The $60 million could have been spread out over the whole year.”
Farrell said she expects administration – and by extension, council – will be as efficient as possible, but she said the Calgary budget cuts will likely come back across all city business units.
“It took administration a year to put the four-year budget together, now they have to do these deep cuts within a month,” she said.
“There’s just going to be cuts across the board. There’s not going to be much analysis or strategy around it.”
Admin making Calgary budget cuts an ‘abdication of our responsibility’
That’s where Coun. Jeromy Farkas took issue with the approach. He said he was the lone dissenting vote against putting all the responsibility on administration to make the decisions.
“So, I think councillors should be willing to stand up and say, ‘this is what I think should be in the budget, this is what I think shouldn’t be,” he said.
“I find that to be very challenging, because, at worst, it’s an abdication of our responsibility.”
Farkas said “we have to fish where the fish are,” when it comes to the budget cuts. He’s advocating cuts to what he said was the city’s fastest growing line item: Wages and benefits. Farkas said that had the city froze labour costs at 2014 levels, he intimated they’d already have saved $200 million.
He’s suggested a five per cent cut to management wages and a 2.5 per cent cut across the board to other city staff.
Farkas also took aim at a familiar punching bag for him – pensions.
$60M trim is like double that, councillor says
No matter how it’s done, the cuts are going to feel like $120 million, said Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra.
“It’s effectively that,” he said.
Carra said it’s not like the city hasn’t been cutting. Former city manager Jeff Fielding, who left in April, oversaw $600 million in savings.
“Now we’re doing extra cuts and we’re going to feel these,” Carra said.
Carra thinks when Calgarians see the impact on services, they may rethink the austerity they’ve asked for in the city budget.
“And then when they start to experience what austerity actually means, they say, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute, I’ll pay more,’” he said.
Council is set to discuss the administration budget cut proposal at the July 22 council meeting.