Calgary city councillors will get a look at the upcoming budget adjustment Monday, with many of the elected officials doing so for the first time.
On Monday, administration will present its budget adjustment package to council. It will lay out projected revenues and expenses for the upcoming year and outline different budget options to council and the public.
The information will be received but not fully revisited until later in November.
“It will be really interesting to see what our administration is sitting at,” said Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp.
“Our job as councillors from the 8th (Nov.) to the 22nd is to seriously sit down and answer and ask the right questions, not only to our citizens but to administration.”
Sharp comes into the city budget with experience on the other side of the equation. She served with city administration as the lead for business and the local economy prior to being elected Oct. 18.
Sharp was concerned that councillors don’t typically get a line-by-line breakdown of the budget. She’s hoping to drill down into the value Calgarians are getting for their tax dollars.
“I actually would like to see this. I think it’s important for transparency, and I think it’s really important to show the citizens of Calgary where we are financially, and where can we go from here,” she said.
“There’s going to be more questions obviously, and we need to do a deeper dive into some of the lines of service to understand where everyone’s sitting financially.”
From business case to budget
Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer said he’s looking forward to the process. He did have some exposure to it while working in former Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating’s office.
“It’s to kind of understand how a business plan leads into a line item, and the programs that kind of drive the budgeting process,” Spencer said.
He thinks that knowledge will help councillors as they wrap their heads around a new four-year budget process in 2022. It will also help him develop a plan for how he’ll need to approach things to put ideas forward for the future of Calgary.
Spencer is acutely aware most Calgarians don’t want to see a property tax increase. He said there will be a real balancing act of moving forward without the financial pain to citizens.
“I mean, holding it where it is, it’s going to be, I think, quite difficult,” he said.
“As we really want to invest in some of those things that are going to help us out down the road, especially the downtown, I think, some short-term pain for some long-term gain, that should be something that Calgarians are at least willing to consider.”
Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said on the campaign trail, there were those citizens who were dead against increased taxes. Others would be willing to pay more to catch up on some of the city’s goals.
“We have to balance those two perspectives that both equally exist,” she said.
Penner expects most business units to be asking for more money. She expects bigger asks from both fire and police, but also non-unionized city workers who haven’t had a pay raise in years.
“We’re going to, like any other council before, look through it carefully, closely,” she said.
“(We’ll) have discussions about what our priorities are as a council and what we want to achieve and try to reconcile those two things.”
Both Spencer and Penner expect more focus on climate-related priorities in this budget. This comes with an upcoming notice of motion declaring a climate emergency and putting Calgary on the path to net-zero emissions.
Spencer said there hasn’t been anything specific laid out in terms of climate programs that would impact the budget. One thing he’s a bit leery of is adding more city employees to administer them.
“I’m not as excited about that necessarily as beefing up granting and incentivizing conversion to green technologies and making sure that some of those priorities around the climate transition and the green economy transition,” he said.
“I would love to see good funding available for that because money moves things,” he said.
Penner said she hopes some of these climate programs are brought forward as budget highlights.
“I think that there has been some push to realize some of those potential actions in this budget,” she said.
Sharp said on the campaign trail she repeated two things.
“One, you can’t cut your way to prosperity. But two, we need to be very financially smart and responsible,” she said.
The city is still in a fragile recovery, Sharp said.
“We need to be very smart about the decisions we make in the next couple of weeks and set us up for success for the next four years,” she said.
“And you know, these are never easy conversations to have. But we have to have them.”
Councillors will finalize the 2022 budget in a week-long meeting beginning Nov. 22.