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Calgary budget: More on how reductions will be achieved

City council approved $60 million in Calgary budget cuts in 48 service areas Tuesday, and more details on those cuts were provided Thursday.

City manager Glenda Cole discussed with media the 233 positions being eliminated, with 115 of those resulting in layoffs.

The cuts come as the city grapples with a shift in non-residential property tax distribution and the dramatic drop in downtown property values. The result was skyrocketing tax bills for hundreds of Calgary businesses.

RELATED: Calgary business tax – Long term solution sought for complex city problem

To shield the city’s business community, the city put together a $130.9 million plan made up of $70.9 million from the city’s fiscal stability reserve and $60 million in operating cost cuts made by the end of this year.

“It’s never easy to lose loyal and committed colleagues who take pride in providing service to Calgarians and the council every day,” Cole said.

“And it’s never easy to reduce services that we know Calgarians value.”

General managers from different departments responded to journalist questions and here’s a further explanation of cuts in some of these areas.

These are presented in the order the questions were asked. It is not a complete dictation of questions asked. We included direct questions about a reduction in services.

Climate resiliency plan

David Duckworth, GM of Utilities and Environmental protection explained that originally the city had budgeted two positions for this area in the November 2018 One Calgary budget, but they would only be going ahead with one position.

“So, we’re looking at our existing team to try and accommodate as much as we can with our current team and recognize that we may have to slow down some actions that we’re pursuing right now,” he said.

Duckworth said there’s 244 strategic actions they’re looking at implementing over the next 10 years.

Three positions have been approved for next year, but he said those would be under review as well.

Emergency management / Emergency operations centre

Katie Black, GM of Community Services said that Calgary’s emergency operations centre becomes an “all hands on deck undertaking” in an emergency situation and they were looking for people to step into those positions who are trained and ready to respond.

“We will continue to train and exercise, across our community and across our corporation. But we will have a little less capacity within the budget to start that work,” Black said.

City staff layoffs

City manager Glenda Cole said the process will take a few weeks, working within their current collective bargaining agreement. In follow up questions, City Chief Financial Officer Carla Male said that the timelines to inform and carry out layoffs were taken into consideration in achieving the $60 million in savings.

Calgary Transit cuts

Roughly 80,000 transit hours are expected to be cut as a result of paring back Calgary Transit’s budget.

Michael Thompson, GM of Transportation said Calgarians would know how their service would be affected by Sept. 2.

We followed up to ask if all 80,000 hours were active service hours or planned hours.

They responded that the service hours being cut are existing service, “not cost avoidance from planned growth.”

Civic partners / social agencies

GM Black confirmed that city civic partners all took a three per cent reduction to their grants. She said Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) partners were not involved in this.

Indigenous relations

GM Black said this department had six positions budgeted, and one position was already in place. Black said they would proceed with two of those additional five positions.

“It’s three of them that we will be handing back at this time, while we continue to build and carefully, thoughtfully and collaboratively with the community on that Indigenous relations work,” Black said.

Mayor / City council cuts

CFO Male said mayor and councillor offices also participated in the cuts. When asked for examples on where we might expect to see city council and mayoral office cuts, Male responded.

“Unfortunately, I do not have that detail.”

Calgary Transit Access

GM Thompson responded to a question around the delivery of service and potential cost reductions through contractual services (private vendors).

Thompson said they would be shifting around the way that service was going to be delivered. In a follow up, he was asked if that would mean more private delivery.

“It’ll more just be shifting around the way we deliver that service,” he responded.

“so again, there will not be an impact to our customers. The same number of people requesting trips will get the same number of trips.”

More Calgary budget cuts and efficiencies to be found

Both Cole and Male said that when the city goes into budget adjustments for 2020, they will be looking to continue to find efficiencies and cost reductions for the upcoming year as they grapple with the ongoing tax shift dilemma.

“So currently, in the One Calgary budget cycle, we have an anticipated tax rate increase overall of three per cent. Council directed us to come back with a couple of scenarios, one scenario would be to reduce that tax rate increase to one and a half percent. And another scenario bringing it down to zero percent,” Male said.

“Administration will be working on that and bringing it forward during their normal November budget deliberation period. We do not know what those results of any of those scenarios look like, at this time, as we’re just starting to do that work.

“We know what the size and scope of the scenario building coming forward, that there will need to be a multitude of strategies we would have to use in order to come up with some of those scenarios. And speaking with our union leaders would be one of those pieces.”