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Calgary budget breakdown: What will all the extra money be used for?

As your Calgary budget follow up, here's a look at where the added cash will go and what kinds of things it will be spent on.

More than $200 million in surplus or reserve cash will be used to top up City of Calgary programs or Civic Partner services within the newly-approved 2023-2026 budget.

Calgary approved a new four-year budget on Nov. 25, and it included a 5.2 per cent property tax increase for the typical single-family property owner ($550,000). That equates to $10 per month for many families.

During the budget proceedings, the city heard from its civic partners, many of whom deliver critical programs to vulnerable Calgarians. Other programs conduct work outside the city’s core scope, but supportive of the city’s desire to be healthy, active and economically diversified.

In this piece, we’re going to break down a little more specifically where the money for some of the bigger additional asks is coming from, where it’s going and what it will be used for. To be clear, this is money that wasn’t already included in the City of Calgary’s $4.4 billion budget.

Overall, many of these projects were funded through a projected $65 million operating surplus from 2022, or $75 million in franchise-fees surplus. We also note other funding mechanisms for other programs we’ve broken out.  

$40 million: Calgary’s 5A network

Calgary’s pathway system. BREE TRESOOR / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Dozens of people came out and spoke in favour of better support for Calgary’s 5A network. This network – Always Available for All Ages and Abilities – is the city-wide alternative mobility network consisting of both on and off-street pathways.

Of the $40 million, $20 million will come from one-time capital funds as a result of an anticipated favourable variance in the franchise-fees program. The other $20 million will come from the Calgary Parking Authority reserve fund.

According to Troy McLeod, the city’s director of mobility, 20 kilometres of additional 5A network was already planned and is underway.  Right now, there are 1,597 kilometres of dedicated cycling and they’d like to see 3,300. McLeod said that would be a billion-dollar investment.

“Yeah, more investment will just accelerate that program,” McLeod told councillors.

There is no specific target for the number of kilometres, he said. Their goal is to extend the network across the city and improve critical or missing links in the system.

Some councillors suggested that taking money from the city’s parking (car) reserve and putting into mobility also sent a signal about their priorities.

Also included in this cash is 2 rectangular rapid flashing beacons for each ward (crossing signals).

$40 million: Cash for the downtown

This is the area along 2 Street SW. LIVEWIRE CALGARY FILE PHOTO

Calgary’s downtown strategy is a big focus of Calgary city council. With property values having plummeted and vacancy rates still over 30 per cent, the city has been working with the development community to convert downtown office space into residential.

The city has its Downtown Calgary Development Incentive Program, which offers a subsidy upon completion of a conversion project. It was funded with seed cash by the last city council.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp put forward an amendment that would see $40 million taken from the city’s real estate services reserves to fund ongoing downtown conversion work. It would also help fund work ($9 million) on post-secondary conversions to get more students downtown.

“The conversion grants are probably the most successful economic stimulus program the city has ever undertaken,” Sharp said.  

“Not only will the first the first batch of money here yield more money in property tax revenue, it’s also triggering more public and private investment and creating jobs and will attract about 1,400 new residents, which is a positive impact to our downtown economy.”

$20 million: Foothills Fieldhouse

Plans are actively underway on a Calgary fieldhouse as a part of the overall redevelopment of Foothills Athletic Park. (CITY OF CALGARY RECREATION)

The Foothills Athletic Park redevelopment is a largely unfunded program looking for a cash infusion from the provincial and federal governments.  A concept plan was completed last year.

This money would likely sit in a reserve awaiting additional investment to move the project forward.

$20 million: Local Area Plan amenities

In the budget amendment, this cash is set aside from the franchise fees surplus.

This is seed funding tied to the successful execution of a Local Area Plan (LAP). It will likely fund public realm improvements identified by neighbourhoods in the LAP. This might include missing link in pathways or sidewalk, area lighting, park improvements, etc.

The city’s budget shows it would like to see up to two of these LAPs done annually. They said it is complex work, however, and timelines are unpredictable.

$19 million: Mental Health and Addictions Strategy

The city’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy received a $19 million boost, funded from projected operating surplus. 

The funding is slated for community organization programming that would have expired in 2023. It also includes seed funding for a partnership with the Calgary police and community organizations. That would see a real-time integrated mental health and addictions centre.

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot said council is veering out of its lane on this one, saying the money could be saved and more advocacy done to the provincial and federal governments to fund areas they are responsible for.

Other councillors, while agreeing with Chabot, said that even though it’s the responsibility of another government, it doesn’t mean the city shouldn’t ignore their duty to care for disadvantaged citizens.  

$10 million: Calgary Fire Department

Calgary Fire Department fire truck. LIVEWIRE CALGARY FILE PHOTO

The Calgary Fire Department was already slated to get a 13 per cent boost ($34.2 million) to their budget over the next four years.  City council voted Friday to add in another $10 million over four years, funded from the projected $65 million surplus.

The initial $34 million would have gone to adding more fire stations and additional firefighters. It would increase staffing on nine of 11 aerial trucks from two to four firefighters and add in a medical response unit. It’s believed that could improve response time by 20 seconds.

During public hearing, Calgary Firefighters Association president Codey McIntyre called the fire department “broken.” He’d said without adequate funding he feared for the safety of firefighters each time they were called out.

CFD Chief Steve Dongworth said the initial budget increase they were getting would help, but the additional cash would get them much further.

Dongworth said that additional cash funds the remaining two aerial trucks with four staff, rather than two.  He said that would improve response time by another eight seconds.

The cash will also allow for a sixth district chief, spreading the number of stations each chief has under his or her direction. It will also mean a second medical response unit for the downtown area. 

Dongworth also said they’d likely hire more mechanics as the number of units and the expertise needed to service them has increased.

$12 million: Granting

This money, according to the budget amendment, will be used to leverage other capital from other orders of government. The examples given are the Rapid Housing Initiative and the Housing Accelerator.

$11 million – Calgary Transit (fares, shelters and benches)

The Calgary Transit intersection at 7 Avenue and 3 Street SE. LIVEWIRE CALGARY FILE PHOTO

Oops, we gave it all away in the subhead.

Calgary Transit riders got some relief for at least a year, as $6 million was put towards fare relief in this budget. In an even split, $3 million will go towards freezing 2023 fares at 2022 levels, and $3 million will go to eliminate fares for children 12 and under.

Fares had been slated to rise by $.10 annually through the budget, reaching $4 for an adult single ride ticket by 2026. Many councillors and transit advocates who spoke during the public hearing said this was counter to encouraging more people to use Calgary Transit.

Also, Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer said that it was a good opportunity to collect data to drive future decision on how fare changes would impact ridership.

“This is us moving in that direction and making sure that if we’re going to bake that in to the (budget) base in the future, that it’s built off of some good data,” Spencer said.

Also included was $5 million for added benches and bus shelters along the Calgary Transit system.

Councillors also heard during questions of administration that it would likely take two years before Calgary Transit could begin to add in a planned 45,000 service hours to bolster efficiency.

$5.8 million – Calgary branding, hosting and hospitality

Calgary skyline shot from the top of the Platform Calgary Innovation Centre. LIVEWIRE CALGARY FILE PHOTO

Both Calgary Economic Development and Tourism Calgary made their case – clearly successfully – for added cash to fund branding, reputation, hosting and hospitality.

Tourism Calgary CEO Cindy Ady had said they were asking for $2 million annually to fund the hosting and hospitality work.  Ady said that with the new BMO Centre expansion, they need to get out there to bring Calgary to the world.

“We’re really hopeful that we’ll be successful because it’s important to the downtown strategy and enlivening and making sure that we really utilize that new asset,” she said earlier in the week.

They were also hoping for a boost to the branding budget. They’re working with Calgary Economic Development, the City of Calgary and other civic partners on this. Right now, research is underway. Without further funding, they’d have to slowly roll out the branding, Ady said.

“It just means we’ll have to slow the implementation of the brand,” she said.  

“And you know, rather than in one year coming out in a fairly aggressive way you’re spread out over three years, which is not the best way to actually implement new brand.”

$2 million: Snow and Ice Control

City of Calgary snow clearing crews. CITY OF CALGARY

Coun. Raj Dhaliwal advocated for another $2 million over four years from the snow and ice control reserve fund.

He wants it as flex money that could be used in major snow events when a snow emergency hasn’t been declared that can be used to increase “trouble service response resources.”

In the meeting, Coun. Dhaliwal said it could be used in high problem areas to do more proactive work to control snow and ice.

Other final areas

As mentioned, many Civic Partners delivered presentations to city council this week, many asking for cash to fund their ongoing work.  Here are some of those additional funding winners:

  • Contemporary Calgary ($900K)
  • Heritage Calgary ($2 million to fund the non-res heritage grant program and the residential tax heritage incentive program)
  • Family and Community Support Services – to fund five per cent operating cost increase
  • Indigenous Relations Office – ($1.5 million)
  • Vibrant Communities Calgary ($2 million)
  • Federation of Calgary Communities ($1 million)
  • Calgary Arts Development ($4 million)
  • Parks Foundation Calgary ($1.5 million)
  • Sport Calgary ($1.5 million)
  • Platform Calgary ($2 million)
  • Closer to Home Indigenous-focused family and community hub.

There’s also a bit of cash in there to waive fees on outdoor patios for businesses for 2023.

It should be noted, residential parking permit fees will increase to $50 from $15, covering the entire cost of implementing that program. (~$1million).