Calgary police funding dominated public submissions during the first day of the city’s budget process.
The mid-cycle budget adjustment meetings are underway and will likely take the week as the city rolled out its plan for $90 million in reductions.
Day one of the meetings focused on city administration laying out the budget plans. It was followed up by public submissions from citizens, non-profit organizations and other interested parties.
Among the proposed reductions are those to the Calgary police budget. The Calgary Police Commission submitted their plan earlier this month.
Citizens came out for both sides of the debate – to defund, or not – though the majority speakers endorsed less funding for Calgary police.
“Defunding the police is a complex movement that cannot be adequately explained in a headline or a tweet,” said Megan Eichorn, who began the public submissions.
“It’s not just taking money away from police and that’s that. It’s about using that money to find new or different services that deal with the non-criminal issues that police have been unfairly and inappropriately tasked with.”
Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee, with the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good described a situation where police arrived at one of her parishioners after a welfare check on her son, who was found dead. She said it was an awkward moment for all involved.
“This is one of the many examples I have of where we need to look at alternative call models. It’s expensive and frankly inappropriate to send armed officers to these types of calls. We can do better,” she said.
Keep the funding intact
Devon Tarrant, whose parents and grandfather served with CPS for 30 years said he’s seen the good, the bad and the ugly growing up in a police family. He said horrifying things are encountered on the job.
“The job can be thankless at the best of times,” he said.
“And now more than ever, it’s our responsibility to back our officers and show them how much we appreciate the sacrifices they make on a daily basis.”
Tarrant said that once this process of defunding the police begins, it’s difficult to stop.
Bruce Wiggers said he’s typically calling the police for traffic issues, but he understands that in other areas they’re overworked and overstretched.
“Yes, we should be funding social programs, but I don’t think at the cost of defunding police,” Wiggers said.
Small business and taxation concerns were raised
Several members of the public also raised the issue of tax hikes for those businesses operating brick and mortar locations. Business owners along 17 Avenue SW said they can’t take another tax hike.
Cornelia Wiebe with Leo Boutique said they’ve weathered all the problems to this point. She listed the 2009 global recession, the 2013 flood and two years of 17 Ave SW construction. Wiebe also brought up ongoing tax increases. She said hers have risen 300 per cent.
According to city information, without a Phased Tax Program (PTP), this year 17 Avenue SW retailers could see a tax hike of 17 per cent.
“This year, 2020, was meant to be a reprieve from roadwork, a time to recover some of the financial losses suffered during the year with street closures scheduled to complete in 2021,” she said.
Today, with COVID-19 an ongoing concern the business still operates, but only with her and her husband. All employees were laid off.
Wiebe appreciated the recent #supportlocalyyc efforts. Still, she implored councillors to find a way to fix the enormous tax burden Calgary businesses are facing.
“The cupboards are bare. There is no more money to give,” she said.
Public submissions wrapped up Monday afternoon. Councillors will get a quick budget refresher Tuesday morning before hearing from individual business units.
Later this week, councillors will debate various aspect of the budget to come to a final decision.