cgy-bronco-council

Mayor Dave Bronconnier listens to submissions during a council meeting Monday. ((CBC))

Calgary city council approved its first major cut to the controversial 2009-2011 budget Tuesday evening, as it continued to go through the document line by line looking for more places to trim.

Aldermen approved Mayor Dave Bronconnier's suggestion to remove the operating costs for the city's Emergency Medical Services from the budget, after the province pledged to take over that responsibility effective April.

By removing the $15.1 million in EMS expenses for next year from the budget, the council was able to bring down the proposed property tax increase for 2009 to 7.8 per cent, compared to the 9.6 per cent originally proposed.

Council also managed to trim another $1.3 million in other expenses on Tuesday.

That barely puts a dent in a proposed $2.5-billion operating budget for 2009, but council was only a quarter of the way through the budget documents by mid-afternoon.

To make the cuts, council members have agreed to trim funding for consultants, cut four new jobs in park maintenance and delay hiring some staff in the asset-management department for six months.

One program that won't be cut is the police service.

Council members unanimously passed an $800-million police budget for the next three years, the single largest chunk of the city budget. Most of that money will be used to hire about 200 more officers.

"I think the city stepped up to the plate today," said police Chief Rick Hanson.

"What it allows us to do … is to implement a plan that we've got in place — the changes we want to make, the resources we want to deploy, the hiring we want to do will take place over three years, and people will see a difference."

Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart said Tuesday that support seems to be fading for a motion calling on city staff to scrap the current proposal and come up with a one-year budget with a tax increase in the three to five per cent range. At one point, eight of 15 council members were ready to vote in favour of the motion.

She said the motion was "not dead yet, but gasping for air."

Public calls for cuts

Earlier this month, city staff proposed a $7.9-billion operating budget for 2009-11, which would result in three years of property tax hikes: 9.6 per cent in the first year, 6.8 per cent the second, and 6.9 per cent in the third — to cover the extra spending.

Compounded over the three-year term of that budget, the increase works out to about 25 per cent.

Eight out of 15 aldermen vowed Thursday to defeat that proposal.

  Proposed property tax increases
 Year Revised  Original
 2009  6.8 %   9.6 %
 2010  6.2 %   6.8%
 2011  6.5%    6.9%

Facing a potential tax revolt, Mayor Dave Bronconnier and finance committee chair Ald. Gord Lowe released a revised budget late that afternoon, shaving more than four percentage points off the original plan's increase.

At an open house on Saturday, Bronconnier and the rest of Calgary city council got an earful from upset taxpayers.

The official debate got underway at city hall on Monday with presentations from the public. Council heard from about 30 people, most calling for cuts to city spending to bring the property tax increase down.

City council has set aside the rest of the week for special meetings on the budget.

Corrections

  • The budget was not trimmed by $250 million by noon on Nov. 18 as originally reported. The cuts at that time totalled about $750,000.
    Nov 18, 2008 4:43 AM MT