Affordable housing, climate, the downtown strategy and public safety were the big winners in Calgary’s 2022 revised budget, finalized after three days of debate.
Councillors heard from the public, then different city departments before debating the main budget, plus nearly $150 million in council additions.
In the end, the property tax rate rose 3.87 per cent. This represents a $6.20 per month increase for the typical single-family detached homeowner.
“I believe that Calgarians are the type of people that understand that services need to be paid for,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.
“And we are doing everything we can to make sure that they’re getting the services they need and deserve.”
The initial admin-prepared budget came back with a tax rate increase of between .64 per cent and .99 per cent. The latter amount included a $6.08 million police budget increase. That amendment was approved on Tuesday.
Of the 11 council-added items worth nearly $150 million, most were fully approved. That added nearly three per cent to the tax rate increase.
“I would say that this particular version of council is one that’s incredibly focused on making investments that will get us a lot of results that we’ve been lacking for the last few years,” Gondek said.
Additional funding for the local area planning, valued at $4.5 million in operating cash survived a narrow 8-7. Some of the climate-related asks, though all passed, were 9-6 votes.
The requests also add City of Calgary staff. There were 141.5 FTEs requested with the budget.
“In order to do good work, you need people to execute on the plans,” the mayor said.
“So, without people doing the work that we’ve requested them to do, it’s going to be impossible to get things done.”
Striking a balance
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said when she was on the doors during the 2021 municipal election campaign, people weren’t asking for a tax increase.
“People do want better value for their service,” she said.
“When we hear comments, like put our money where our mouth is, it’s not the city’s money, it’s the taxpayers’ money. So, we have to justify every decision we make.”
Sharp noted that city admin did come back with a near-zero property tax increase (.64 per cent). The police request was additional. The other requests in the queue were councillor driven, she said.
“I don’t think our citizens are expecting more than what administration brought forward,” Sharp said.
Public safety got a boost, with both the Calgary Fire Department and the Calgary Police Service receiving their respective funding requests. It will mean additional personnel for both departments.
Climate also got a boost, as councillors voted to provide money to accelerate the city’s climate resilience strategy. The city declared a climate emergency earlier this month. There was concern from both Couns. Jennifer Wyness and Sonya Sharp that these asks didn’t come with specific plans or targets.
One of the council submitted asks that didn’t get approved was for equity improvements. That would have coordinated equity work across Calgary business units. It wasn’t approved as it was cash in addition to one time funding that has already been allocated. Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra suggested it could be revisited in the upcoming four-year budget cycle.
Another area that was contended was a $10.5 million request for improved snow and ice control (SNIC). Some councillors suggested that the money should not be tax-supported and could come from the SNIC reserves.
Some freezes, some increases
City manager David Duckworth said that they were able to hold the line on user fees, particularly around waste and recycling. They were also able to to reduce fees for building safety and development approvals.
“The 2022 adjustments approved today respond to the evolving needs of citizens and businesses,” said Duckworth.
“We found a careful balance between reducing costs and modernizing our approach to service delivery, while still maintaining safety, protecting our vulnerable populations, and delivering the quality and service levels that Calgarians expect and need.”
We’ll break down the budget in further detail in the coming days!