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Calgary budget cut scenarios presented to city council

Calgary will be cutting up to another $52.5 million from the city budget, depending on the scenario city councillors chose to move forward with.

Councillors were provided with two scenarios Tuesday as they look at making budget adjustments later this month: One with a 1.5 per cent property tax increase and another with zero property tax increase.

They will be making a final decision on these cuts later in November, after discussing a solution to deal with the tax shift in non-residential properties.

RELATED: Calgary property tax – When a zero isn’t really a zero

As expected, some of the hardest hit areas in the different scenarios are those with the biggest operational budgets: Calgary police, Calgary fire and Calgary Transit.

In addition, a zero per cent property tax increase will result in the reduction of 236 full time employees (FTEs). With a 1.5 per cent increase, the reduction in FTEs of 178. It’s not clear at this point if those are actual job losses or if they are the elimination of unfilled positions or positions.

Capital adjustments are also included in the city budget report, and they will be reduced by $20.5 million. A review of the capital budget is underway and is expected to be presented to council Jan. 27, 2020.

The city had already approved a 3.03 per cent increase. Calgary city council had directed administration to come up with the new scenarios. The below effects of the scenarios are in comparison with this previously approved increase.  

The current proposed 3.03 per cent Calgary property tax increase

A 1.5 per cent property tax increase

A zero per cent tax increase

With this one, it’s important to note that it includes everything that the 1.5 per cent scenario, in addition to the below.

“These scenarios were developed with careful consideration to the guiding principles set by Council,” David Duckworth, city manager, said in a prepared release.

“Those principles included a least harm approach to services for citizens and ensuring all our employees are treated with dignity and respect.”

Other key highlights of Calgary budget adjustment proposals

The biggest losers in the proposed budget adjustments in terms of financial loss – with a zero per cent property tax increase:

  • While Calgary fire loses $3.4 million with a 1.5 per cent increase, it loses nearly $5 million under the zero per cent scenario. In the reduction description, it mentions an emergency response station (one engine and 20 firefighters) as being a $3.4 million loss.
  • Calgary police, after taking a trim in the last cuts, and taking a recent hit after the provincial budget changed fine revenue allocation, will see an $8.3 million trim in a zero per cent increase budget.
  • Calgary Transit, after eliminating 80,000 service hours after previous budget cuts, will see an additional $10.3 million hit under a zero per cent property tax increase.

Calgary budget’s property tax implications

The city was also fairly clear in outlining what it would cost to keep these services for a typical Calgary taxpayer.

The typical Calgary taxpayer would save $5.10 per month under the zero per cent scenario. The 1.5 per cent scenario saves Calgary homeowners $2.60 per month.

The 3.03 per cent increase would cost the average taxpayer $5.10 per month.

‘It’s going to be a zero there’: Coun. Sutherland

Coun. Ward Sutherland spoke with media after the budget adjustments were delivered in council.

He said he and a few others colleagues have come together to pitch a few cost saving ideas in order to keep the property tax increase to a zero.

“It’s already been said, talking to my colleagues, it’s going to be a zero. There’s a majority of colleagues that want it to be a zero, you saw this scenario today, I think there’s some minor adjustments,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland went back to the wage issues with Calgary’s unionized workers. For the unions to forgo their Jan. 2020 1.5 per cent pay increase would save the city $30 million in wage expense next year.

“I hope also that the union members start talking to their leaders since everyone I’ve talked to, in the last two weeks with the open letter, not one single person has said they will accept, all everybody has said is, ‘we’ll accept not taking the 1.5 per cent,'” Sutherland said.