As Mayor Nenshi put it in our year end interview with him, this year Calgary had at least 5 stories that could have been the story of the year.
COVID, racism, COVID… Calgary budget/tax decrease, the Green Line, the northeast Calgary hailstorm – and more.
They could all be considered a top story of the year in any other year. This year, Calgary had several of them.
Stay tuned later this week for the stories we think might shape the news 2021!
Top stories – 2020
Of course, COVID-19 is the top story of the year. It’s been four-plus generations since we’ve seen a pandemic of this magnitude.
It’s resulted in widespread economic shutdowns, public health restrictions, changes to school, work and social lives. It’s found its way into nearly every part of our lives. It’s exposed flaws in government and health / long term care, and shown rifts in society’s perception of the rule of law.
But, it’s also made us adapt, learn, cope and evolve. We’ve built a new resolve in ourselves and our children. People have learned to appreciate the smaller things in life.
We learned things like R-factor, flatten the curve, comorbidity and hand hygiene. We debated mask use and spread in certain locations and not others.
This is a story that will continue to make headlines well into 2021. How will the vaccine work – especially with the spectre of a variant strain of COVID-19. We’ll also see how economies recover and what economic sectors thrive and which collapse.
Green Line LRT
Calgary approved the project back in June. It’s now been more than six months and the project still hasn’t been approved by the province.
Concerns about escalating costs, particularly around an underground portion of the line, continue to dog the $5 billion transportation project.
There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty around the project. If it’s approved, will it take the same shape as approved at council, or will it look like a vision put forward by outside interests? That includes an above grade option along the proposed 11 Avenue alignment.
Both Mayor Nenshi and Ward 12 councillor Shane Keating remain hopeful shovels will hit the ground in late 2021. Procurement, however, has been put on hold until the province signals its intentions.
Racism in Calgary
After George Floyd was killed by Minnesota police in May, systemic racism was an issue that swept across the world. It sparked rallies and protests in cities worldwide, including several in Calgary over the summer.
It also prompted a critical look – and ultimate acceptance – that Calgary, like many cities, suffered from systemic racism. Calgary held a special public meeting to hear the stories of Calgarians who’d suffered from systemic racism.
Those meetings culminated with a formal recognition that systemic racism existed in Calgary.
Further conversations were held with local BIPOC leaders, including many who wanted to see the Calgary Police Service funding reduced. Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld agreed on a handful of occasions that city police officers didn’t need to attend some social-related calls.
The Calgary police agreed to work with stakeholders on an alternative call model. They put forward a budget plan that would see $8 million of their $400+ million budget reallocated to this work. City council later covered that cost via the city’s fiscal reserve. Calgary police also offered to cut $10 million that would have paid for 2021 officer recruits.
That was approved, with the option of revisiting that funding in 2021 should they need it.
Calgary budget / tax decrease
For the first time in recent memory, Calgary tax rates reversed course and went down.
But, Calgarians shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that means that your tax bill will be lower. For the average single-family homeowner, it does mean a likely reduction of roughly $1.50 per month on their property tax.
For others it could mean an increase (if property values decreased less than the mean or increased overall). Many Calgary businesses will still see a substantial increase. Businesses along 17 Avenue SW, retail strip malls and city warehouses will all see a jump. The city did cap it at 10 per cent.
These increases are due to an ongoing challenge with low downtown property values coupled with the city setting its budget amount and then taxing to that amount.
It’s something Calgary city councillor Jyoti Gondek wants to change. During November budget deliberations, Gondek said that the city needs to better project the revenue it expects and then budget to that figure. She said it would limit the swings in property tax for businesses and homeowners.
In our year end interview with Mayor Nenshi, he said changing the system, right now, was both illegal and impractical. It contravenes the province’s Municipal Government Act, he said, plus, you can’t budget for a city the way you budget for a home.
He said you can’t just decide you’re going to have certain things and go without others when tax revenues fluctuate.
“That’s just not how this works,” he said.
Northeast Calgary hailstorm
On June 13, Calgary was hit by a massive hailstorm in northeast Calgary that left cars and homes in ruins. At $1.4 billion, it’s been tabbed as the fourth costliest insurable disaster in Canadian history.
What made matters worse was it happened in the middle of COVID-19. People had lost jobs, were temporarily laid off, had less cash in hand, were supporting others – and that left it tough to scrape together cash for insurance deductibles.
While most homes have made successful claims, work on all of them hasn’t yet been done. Some are left with tattered houses six months later, in the dead of winter.
The province did provide some help, allowing residents to make disaster claims for uninsured damages. Few made claims relative to the number of homes damaged.
Late in the year, Calgary provided property tax relief for remaining residents who hadn’t yet been repaired.