Calgary added some green to the city parks budget, with an initial cash fusion and a longer term plan to spruce things up.
Couns. Jeff Davison and Ward Sutherland brought the notice of motion forward and teamed up with Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart to provide Calgary parks relief.
Davison said there’s been unprecedented use of Calgary parks during COVID-19, but very little additional money to keep them up to snuff. The plan is to provide an upfront $500,000 to help ensure parks are safe and clean, Davison said.
“Often parks is the first to be cut and the last to be funded when we talk about budget,” he said.
The plan, which was approved unanimously on the second day of the combined meeting of council, called for $500,000 immediately from the city’s fiscal sustainability reserve to help clean up and repair city parks.
It also asks for a capital budget increase of up to $6.2 million in 2022 and $1.9 million in 2023 so upgrades to field could be made. The would be for items like backstops, irrigation, light pole fixtures, seating, turf repairs and playfield improvements.
There is also a plan to better utilize the Enmax Legacy Parks fund to help prop up parks maintenance and upgrading. It calls for an Enmax parks reserve to be capped at $18 million. Any dividend amount over $47 million will be directed to Calgary parks capital. If the reserve falls below $18 million, the dividend overage would be used to top that up.
The notice of motion also called for a 2022 parks recovery program that would be included in the 2022 budget adjustments.
Parks funding depleted
City of Calgary parks director Kyle Ripley said that over the past decade, Calgary parks last lost 23 per cent of its operating budget. That been due to small cuts and changes to service delivery over the years.
COVID contributed the decline in park condition.
“I think what we have seen is the number of impacts over time are starting to add up, and then the intensity of use, through COVID, exacerbated that to the point where we’re seeing it likely sooner now that we may have actually seen the results of our cuts,” Ripley said.
Coun. Colley-Urquhart, said she’s been assessing parks in her ward and around the city over the past several weeks.
“It’s very obvious to me now. Not only have we cut to the bone, we’ve cut into the marrow,” she said.
Colley-Urquhart said she’s seen smaller parks become overgrown to the point kids can’t really get around in them. Some of this, she suggested, might have been due to the city outsourcing maintenance contracts.
“It’s not up to snuff. It absolutely is not up to snuff. And it’s not meeting the expectations of citizens,” she said.