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Calgary posts a $147 million standalone budget surplus in 2021

Calgary has approximately $147 million in uncommitted budget surplus, according to the city’s 2021 audited financial statement.

There was a special meeting of council held Monday to review the 2021 consolidated financial report, after its approval at Audit Committee last week. The Municipal Government Act (MGA) requires the financial statement to be presented and approved publicly prior to May 1. 

Without a full meeting of council scheduled in that time, a special meeting was called.

City of Calgary Chief Financial Officer Carla Male said that there’s $147 million in uncommitted funds just from the City’s standalone budget variance. That money will reside in Calgary’s Fiscal Stability Reserve (FSR) until they determine what to do with it.

Overall, on the consolidated statement (City of Calgary and all subsidiaries), there’s a $265 million surplus.  That’s over and above the five per cent minimum retained as a contingency.

Couns. Andre Chabot and Dan McLean both expressed concern that these numbers weren’t provided prior to the 2021 budget adjustment discussions.  Calgary’s 2022 overall municipal tax increase was finalized earlier this year at 3.61 per cent.

“Why it is that we’re not approving this subsequent to us approving the budget finalization,” Coun. Chabot asked. Chabot did later support the statement’s approval, saying that $147 million is somewhat small in a $4.2 billion budget.

CFO Male said that it’s typically come to council in April, as it’s the final 2021 audited statement. An estimate is provided during budget adjustments.

“We, in fact, had preliminary numbers when we did the budget in November,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

“This is not some wild surprise. These are not numbers that we’ve never seen before.”

Business versus government

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said the city’s robust financial position is the result of prudent management and wise investments.

“I think it is important to note that we are a government, not a business,” Coun. Penner said.

“And while we have business-like components in our budget, this surplus is actually showing you those business cases are performing strongly.”

Penner said the surplus wasn’t due to over-taxation.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp clarified with administration that the City of Calgary is a corporation under the MGA.  She said council was elected to help run the corporation on residents’ behalf.

“Just because we provide essential services to constituents doesn’t mean you can’t budget like, and operate like, a business,” Sharp said.

Sharp said they’re looking at the statements like a corporation would.

“To paraphrase something – we can’t act like an infant with endless spending at the front and no accountability at the back,” she said.

“We have to be careful with our language about saying this can’t be run like a business. We can be smart about it.”

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer said one of the good news stories in the sound financial position was that it allowed Calgary to respond quickly during the pandemic.

“We have an awful lot of priorities moving forward that are really important to Calgarians. So, to be in the situation that we’re in today is great,” he said.

Mayor Gondek said council can decide how that money is allocated in the coming months. Previous surpluses were put to maintaining police, fire and transit budgets, she said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what my colleagues will bring forward in terms of expenditures that can be covered by this money,” she said.