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‘Running blind’: Calgary ponders the merit of city census cut

Calgary’s city census was identified for potential one-time funding, as councillors and the mayor questioned if cutting it was doing more harm than good.

City councillors were into day two of mid-cycle budget adjustments on Tuesday. Day one consisted of public submissions on the budget. On day two, council heard from administration on areas they’d identified for reductions.

The annual city census is one of the items identified in Calgary’s Solutions for Achieving Value and Excellence (SAVE) program. It would cut the more than $900,000 annually from the operating budget.

The external consultant said their analysis looked at what other cities did in terms of a municipal census. Most other cities did not to their own census. They relied on the federal government’s census every four years for data.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi was concerned that if they waited for the federal government’s quadrennial census, they’d be missing key data.

“I don’t always want to do exactly what other cities do, because I believe in evidence based decision making,” Mayor Nenshi said Tuesday.

“I’m really worried that if we remove the civic census, we’re running blind as we’re making decisions around the growth of the city.”

External consultant Ernst and Young said that there’s difficulty in applying a quantitative value to the outcomes. They said they were asked to find savings opportunities to put them in line with other Canadian cities and this was one of those areas.

Mayor Nenshi said he would consider testing council’s will during budget debate for one-time funding for the census.

Pay for itself?

Coun. Jeromy Farkas queried on potential that we would save more money in the long run by keeping the census and the data it produced. Farkas asked if there was a comparison in the census questions asked by other orders of government.

“If there’s a potential for us to actually be saving some money or at least offsetting the cost of the census… But it’s possible that that could actually come into council’s determination here as to the value proposition,” Farkas said.

City administration said there would likely be different data collected. Calgary-specific questions could be asked.

Coun. Druh Farrell asked how they made the determination to cut the census. Or, was it a “blunt instrument” because other cities don’t do it.

“I’m just wondering if that’s the only determination,” she asked.

The census decision went through a “rigorous analysis, risk assessment input from a wider stakeholder group,” Coun. Farrell was told.

Decisions on budget items will be made later this week when councillors debate the final budget adjustment.