More cuts are coming, says Calgary's new city manager

Calgary's new city manager told council Monday that more cuts are coming soon. But David Duckworth also said there's a limit to how long that can go on without affecting key services.

David Duckworth says just raising taxes isn't always the answer

New Calgary city manager David Duckworth laid out his short and medium term vision on Monday. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Now that he's been in his new job for over a month, Calgary's new city manager is promising changes.

David Duckworth spelled out his short and medium term plans to his political bosses during a strategic council meeting on Monday.

He set the table by outlining in the meeting a bit of information about his personal history and his philosophy.

Duckworth has been a public servant for 29 years in B.C. and here in Calgary.

He wants to show the value of good municipal government while demonstrating fiscal responsibility.

That means reducing the cost of municipal governance and restoring public confidence and trust in city hall.

More cuts to spending

He told council more cuts are likely coming, both across the board and also with some specific targets in mind.

That has to continue because in this economy, there's a limit to how much taxpayers can absorb.

"Just increasing taxes isn't the right answer," said Duckworth.

He also said that at some point, the cuts will have to stop.

"It can't continue year after year after year because it will start to erode the services that are respected and demanded by Calgarians."

The city has found $600 million in savings and spending cuts from 2015 to 2019.

City must remain attractive place to work

With council's decision this summer to cut $60 million in spending to help pay for a tax cut for business property owners, 115 city employees were laid off. 

More than 500 city jobs have been cut or collapsed in the past few years.

Duckworth said the city remains a good place to work but he is worried about its ability to attract talented employees.

"We're having a tough time right now attracting certain professional people in certain professions because the salaries that we provide here are not competitive with the private sector right now," said Duckworth.

"We are actually losing professionals as well so I want to make sure that drain stops." 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the city can use the new manager's fresh set of eyes. (CBC)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has praise for Duckworth's experience in helping cities in B.C. manage transitions.

"We can really use that fresh set of eyes to say, look, are there better ways of doing things, better ways to organize ourselves while maintaining or improving the quality of service?" said Nenshi.

"Question two is, do we have the right level of service?  And that's the tough question for council."

He added that council and not administration will ultimately decide during next month's budget adjustments what spending cuts may or may not go ahead.

Councillor likes Duckworth's message

Coun. Ward Sutherland told reporters he likes what he's hearing from Duckworth.

"There's some things we can't talk about right now but I think he's going in the right direction," said Sutherland.

"He certainly is aware of all of the challenges that are coming forward and he does have a plan."

Sutherland said the city is facing short term challenges such as possible changes arising from the federal election on Oct. 21 as well as the provincial budget on Oct. 24. 

Those things could result in adjustments to the city's 2020 budget plan. Council is looking at changes to both spending as well as tax rates. 

Council has already approved a three per cent residential tax increase for next year.

But it asked administration earlier this year to lay out the budget implications of slicing that tax hike for 1.5 per cent tax as well as a tax freeze.


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