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Calgary budget: Police, fire outline service reductions with cuts

The Calgary Police Service (CPS) and the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) were in the spotlight Tuesday as the city continued its budget adjustment week.

The day after public submissions were heard, General Managers from the city’s business units began laying out what would happen under the different tax rate scenarios.

Community Services, which encompasses things like the fire department, urban canopy, social services (like FCSS) and boulevard maintenance, took up the bulk of the day, with Calgary city councillors peppering GMs with questions.

The CPS also took part Tuesday, and Chief Mark Neufeld laid out the effects of potential cuts to the service. The Calgary police are already dealing with a $13 million shortfall after the province rejigged the ratio of fine revenue they would take from municipalities.

Under the 1.5 per cent tax rate increase, the city would be able to cover that shortfall, but should there be a zero increase, the city said Calgary police would be face a further reduction of $8.45 million.

“How awful, in the zero per cent scenario, would it be for you?” asked mayor Nenshi.

The police chief responded equally bluntly.

“It equates to about 85 positions,” Neufeld said.

“To contextualize that, that’s one district in the city. That’s after we’ve already eliminated the other 120 equivalents.

“We cannot absorb another $8 million without changes to service delivery.”

Calgary Fire Department response

Calgary Fire Department.

Chief Steve Dongworth was equally bleak in his assessment of further cuts to the CFD. Under the 1.5 per cent tax rate increase scenario, the CFD would forgo a planned $3.4 million temporary fire hall (one engine, 20 firefighters) in the north Calgary community of Livingston.

Dongworth talked about the city already being among the highest in Canada for their first response and ERF – Effective Response Force – the amount of time it takes to assemble enough firefighters at a fire to effectively and safely fight it.

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This is in comparison with other cities across the country, with targets set by council in 2008.

“For the first unit, we are among the longest response times in Canada,” Dongworth said.

“For ERF, we have among the longest for time and we assemble the least amount of staff.”

Dongworth said since 2015 there’s been a jump in both population and incidents, and the budget hasn’t grown. He did note $15 million in operational cash was provided but was eaten up by escalating labour costs.

Calgary fire’s chief equated the situation to the little Dutch boy plugging holes in the dike, while other holes continued to open.

Ongoing response to medical calls has put been a big challenge, Dongworth said, and they’d made a plea to the province for more help. He said the province told them responding to those calls was a voluntary decision.

Other Community Services

Community Services GM Katie Black also outlined other areas that would be scaled back, including the urban canopy, community social work support, boulevard maintenance and naturalization and $3 million less for Civic Partners like the Calgary Public Library and Calgary Economic Development.

Councillors also heard that the city would be scaling back New Year’s Eve and Canada Day events.