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Calgary budget: Police request approved, main budget waiting in the wings

Calgary police were in focus as city council trudged through the second day of budget adjustments working towards a 2022 tax rate.

Councillors debated a proposed 2022 budget, that, if all of the asks are approved, could increase the typical single-family homeowner’s property tax bill by $5 per month. All told, the full budget funding would result in a four per cent increase.

While councillors began nibbling around the edges of the budget, the Calgary police presentation took centre stage. They’re asking for an additional $6.08 million to add 25 civilian employees and 13 front-line officers.

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld told council that the service is struggling to meet the needs of a growing and changing city. He cited COVID, a change in the complexity of case work, criminal code amendments and the support of human resource work, particularly around equity, diversity and inclusion.

“As we saw through our most recent employee engagement survey, the impact of all of this is undoubtedly affecting employee morale, with responses to the survey being some of the bleakest we have seen in years,” he said.

The CPS has a roughly $411 million budget, the biggest line item for the City of Calgary. The current budget allows for 60 new recruits to cover attrition and natural growth. The added request is for 38 more employees.

“We do not come lightly with this request,” Chief Neufeld said.  

“The commission is very proud of the hard work that the service carries out every day in the city. And it is very hard work both physically and psychologically.”

Councillors heard that the CPS needed the cash to provide relief for front-line workers and for continued transition in their human resources and to address equity, diversity and inclusion.

Debate over the extra cash

The $6 million item was an added budget request, outside of the main adjusted budget. It was ultimately approved as an amendment at council, 11-4.

Some councillors suggested the Calgary police weren’t accountable for the cash that they had budgeted. Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra suggested that the Calgary Police Commission wasn’t equipped to handle the oversight of a $400 million organization.

Coun. Courtney Walcott said that the CPS budget has increased from $277 million in 2010, to $411 million this year. He said the city has no control over police, except the budget. He wouldn’t support the police request.

“Every year we have not held them to any form of scrutiny,” he said.

Coun. Peter Demong took issue with it, stating that it’s categorically false that the city doesn’t have oversight.

“That is so totally incorrect,” he said. We have two councillors on the Calgary Police Commission for that, he said.

Demong said he’s heard from residents that they want to see improved public safety.

Couns. Andre Chabot, Terry Wong and Sonya Sharp said they also heard concerns at the doors during the campaign.

Coun. Evan Spencer said he was satisfied that CPS was continuing to move ahead with partnership in the community safety investment framework.

He said it signalled their commitment to an alternative call model. Coun. Spencer said it was important to him to have a positive start to the relationship with the city police.

“I don’t want to start right out of the gate with eroding trust with that organization,” he said.

Coun. Sean Chu, who has thus far participated in the budget debate from home, attended Tuesday’s portion of the meeting in person to speak on behalf of the CPS budget ask.

While this request was approved, the whole budget still needs final approval. That’s expected to come Wednesday.