Calgary non-profit organizations feel the pinch as economy continues to recover

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Calgary non-profit organizations feeling the pinch as economy continues to recover
WATCH ABOVE: As Alberta's economy continues to recover, organizations in Calgary are seeing signs this week the province is far from out of the woods. As Lisa MacGregor reports, some attractions are facing tough decisions – Sep 18, 2018

The past few years have been tough for many in Calgary. Attractions like Heritage Park have been doing some belt-tightening, but staff said that 2018 brought with it some unexpected challenges.

Heritage Park CEO Alida Visbach said this year alone they’ll lose about $900,000. She said a big factor this year was that work being done on the reservoir meant the S.S. Moyie did not sail this season.

“Because of the flood mitigation work on the reservoir. And we’ve also seen major increases in our costs to operate, related to wages and carbon tax and other issues,” Visbach said. “This is the worst financial situation we’ve ever been in in 54 years and it’s completely out of our control.”

READ MORE: Heritage Park could face partial shutdown after ‘perfect storm’ of financial pressures, Calgary council hears

Visbach said at this point, the organization is moving forward with planned projects but this is the first time the park has ever operated with a deficit. They’ll have to take a good hard look at what needs to be done to bring costs back in line, she explained.

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Another civic partner is also feeling the pinch. The Calgary Arts Development wants funding increased from $6.4 million per year to $19.5 million by 2019.

The increase is certainly a big one but CEO Patti Pon said the investment will benefit the entire city.

“This increase that we’re seeking is one that will get us caught up. We’re the lowest of all major cities in Canada from a per-capita annual arts granting perspective,” Pon said. “So we’re already low and then we have the carpet pulled from under our community with the economic downturn.”

READ MORE: Calgary city council passes 2018 budget with property tax hike

Ward 3 Councillor Jyoti Gondek doesn’t want the city to force organizations to compete against each other to decide who gets more money.

“I would hesitate to focus on just one, because it’s an attraction. I think we’ve got to look at everyone’s situation independent of the others.”

Gondek said she is focused on places like recreational centre Vivo For Healthier Generations because it provides several services for its community.

“We’ve got social programming happening there. We’ve got integration of newcomers. We’ve got fiscal literacy programs going in there,” Gondek said.

Telus Spark didn’t want to comment on its financial situation on Tuesday but did say it has felt the increase in both wages and utilities.

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As for the Calgary Zoo, staff said they were fortunate to be able to complete their flood mitigation and construction well before they opened their Panda Passage exhibit in May of this year. They are pleased with how their May to September tourism numbers have been.

The challenge for city council moving forward in November when budget talks resume, is which civic partners get what and why.

Calgary’s non-profit organizations vary widely in terms of services, mandates and financial structure.

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