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Calgary cash surplus hits $98 million in 2020

Calgary posted a $98 million dollar cash surplus in 2020, largely due to government COVID-19 transfer payments.

The city’s audit committee heard that Calgary’s total surplus was $792 million. Much of that comes through developer contributions and other revenue and would be mostly capital oriented.

Plummeting transit ridership and on-again-off-again openings in recreation facilities had the city concerned about a revenue shortfall. With Enmax equity earnings, federal relief cash and the Enmax dividend ($54 million), the city posted a combined $332 million operating surplus.

With the Enmax equity earnings (non-cash) of $234 million stripped out, the surplus landed at $98 million.

Last year, the city also cut spending by $65 million. That included the layoffs of more than 1,200 employees.

“I think it’s clear to everybody that we, at the beginning of the pandemic, I know that the city manager and the finance department reached across the organization to say, ‘nobody spend money that we don’t need to spend,’” said audit committee chair, Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley.

“We were actually uncertain at the time of the level of financial support that we may or may not have been receiving from our federal and provincial partners.”

MOST of the surplus came from government transfers

Last year, the federal government doled out cash to help support the operating expenses for Canadian cities.

It was administered through the province’s Municipal Operating Support Transfer (MOST). Calgary received just over $200 million through that program.

In a typical year, any surplus logged by the city would be put into the fiscal stability reserve. This year, it’s expected to go to pandemic relief.

“There is a surplus created, mostly from the MOST funding, and some savings, and we will be using those for pandemic response and recovery in 2021,” said City of Calgary Chief Financial Officer, Carla Male.

Coun. Woolley said they had to navigate the year under pandemic circumstances. They only got relief cash at the end of the year.

“It really is through the judicious management of our finances over the last year that we were able to end up where we are,” he said.

Earlier in the audit committee meeting, the city reported that earned $167 million on its investments. That represented a roughly 6.5 per cent return.