Calgary

Calgary fire, police, transit to be biggest losers as city looks to cut $60M

Calgary's fire, police and transit  departments could be the ones hit the hardest as the city mulls ways to tighten its belt by $60 million, after council approved a 10-per cent tax rollback for business property owners earlier this year.

'We have to make those tough decisions today to ensure that we have a prosperous future,' says Coun. Chahal

Earlier this year, council approved a 10-per cent tax rollback for business property owners. Since then, the city has been searching for ways to pay for it. (CBC)

Calgary's fire, police and transit  departments could be the ones hit the hardest as the city mulls ways to tighten its belt by $60 million. 

Earlier this year, council approved a 10-per cent tax rollback for business property owners. Since then, the city has been searching for ways to pay for it.

Nearly every city department and service — from affordable housing and arts to waste and recycling — will see cuts.

But the deepest slashes will hit the city's largest tax-funded arms. Fire and emergency response could be slashed by $7.6 million, police by $7 million, and transit stands to lose nearly $9.4 million.

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The proposed budget reductions are somewhat proportional to city funding. Roughly 14 per cent of all city property tax revenue goes to police, 7.8 per cent goes to fire, and 8.2 per cent goes to public transit.

Nearly one-fifth of the $60 million will be found through "efficiencies," which would not reduce services, according to city administration.

Beyond that, many of the savings will be achieved by delaying or cancelling new initiatives and program expansions, and by targeting services that are under-utilized, says the report.

The document also raises the spectre of job cuts at city hall, though it says staff sought, where possible, to reduce vacant or unfilled positions and not hire for new positions.

Cuts could hit the most vulnerable

Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell hopes the outlined $2.4-million cut to "specialized transit" doesn't mean a cut to Access Calgary. 

"It would be awful if we cut Access Calgary. The people who rely on it have no other choice," she said.

"It's already a poor service. People with disabilities are left waiting on the sidewalk, or they miss their appointment, or they miss their friends' funerals. It's the only option that they have."

"What I asked when looking at these cuts is please, don't cut services to our most vulnerable citizens."

Some councillors remain divided on the across-the-board approach that administrators employed, at council's direction, in recommending these cuts.

"I expect you to do more than just proportional cuts across the board," said Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek. 

"I expect there to be some thoughtfulness into which services should we be in, and which ones can we get out of," she said.

"But what I heard loud and clear … is that that's apparently a quite lengthy process, and we can't make decisions like that because we didn't have enough time. I find that incredibly frustrating."

But Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal believes every part of the city needs to pony up if council wants to meet its reduction targets. 

"We have to make those tough decisions today to ensure that we have a prosperous future. There will be some unintended consequences from the decisions we make, but we don't have a choice," he said.

Council will review the recommendations and a more detailed breakdown of the proposed cuts on Tuesday, when they are expected to vote on the package.

With files from Scott Dippel

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