Calgary preps for $60M in cuts, while looking ahead to cut millions more next year

Calgary city council will review six areas to see where more savings can be found for next year, as it prepares to hear where $60 million in cuts will come from in this year's budget.

Areas up for review include low-income transit passes

City council is looking at more ways to cut spending for next year's budget. (CBC)

Calgary city council will review six areas to see where more savings can be found for next year, as it prepares to hear where $60 million in cuts will come from in this year's budget.

This year, the city approved a 10 per cent tax cut for business property owners that it will pay for through money from the city's reserves and through spending cuts.

Council's set to discuss where those cuts will come from next week, but it's also looking ahead to the fall budget to figure out how to reduce next year's property tax hike.

The city is looking at cutting down the three per cent tax hike to 1.5 per cent or a tax freeze — which would mean cuts, respectively, of $26.5 million or $52.5 million dollars. 

The six areas the city will look at, whittled down from hundreds of sub-services, are:

  • Golf programs and activities.
  • Bus and CTrain operations.
  • Low-income transit passes.
  • Citizen engagement.
  • Sailing programs and activities.
  • Community-wide waste management programs and recycling depots.
  • Boulevard and street naturalization.

The reviews, which will look at whether the city should stop offering a service or the impacts and trade-offs of reducing the level of service, will cost the city $50,000 to $100,000 each in staff hours.

Coun. Druh Farrell says she'd like to see what Calgarians think of this year's cuts first.

"To me it's premature. I don't know what the impacts will be of this," Farrell said. "It's going to hurt. I imagine we'll get Calgarians complaining about transit service, police service, all those things. And I would like to have an understanding of, 'did we make a big mistake?'"

Farrell said there also needs to be a discussion about making the city's budget more resilient.

"So that we don't have to … experience these kinds of shocks and we haven't had that conversation yet," she said.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says it's worth seeing what's possible.

"[The reviews] cost money to do, but we save a lot in terms of what they come up with. Otherwise we wouldn't do it," Nenshi said.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he's willing to look at the results of the reviews but he wants to make sure the cost of doing them is worth it. (CBC)

The low-income transit model is one of the areas under review. It currently receives provincial funding that isn't guaranteed moving forward.

The analysis will look at how that program could possibly still be funded by the city in a sustainable way, Nenshi said. 

"Broadly, do we have to look at the scale itself and the income levels at which we achieve which scale, maybe we need more steps in it. Maybe you look at peak and non-peak ridership differently," Nenshi said. "It is a critical, critical program … we have endless fights over whether we can reduce taxes by $2 or $3 a month. This program puts $90 or $100 a month into the pockets of low-income people."

The results of the reviews are due back in November, and the details of this year's cuts will be presented by administration to council on July 22. 

With files from Scott Dippel


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