Calgary Fire Department faces $9M budget cut: union boss

Click to play video: 'Calgary council responds to budget cut concerns from fire department union'
Calgary council responds to budget cut concerns from fire department union
WATCH: The Calgary Firefighters Association has voiced concerns over what it expects will be millions in cuts to its operating budget. But as Global's Tomasia DaSilva reports, some city councillors and the mayor said the department won't be the only one facing cuts – Jun 25, 2019

The Calgary Firefighters Association (CFA) says it believes the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) will be hit with a $9-million budget cut as city council looks to find $60 million in savings.

The union is speaking out as city council tries to ease the burden for businesses facing rising property taxes.

Mike Henson, president of the CFA, told Global News on Monday that the expected $9-million cut will have to come from its 2019 operating budget, and that it will directly affect Calgarians.

“I have not been told what trucks or what fire halls will be shut down,” Henson said. “But I can’t help but think that the $9-million cuts will affect front-line services to the citizens.”

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On the City of Calgary’s property tax calculator, CFD accounts for 7.8 per cent of the city’s annual budget. A $9-million cut would be 15 per cent of the $60 million that council is looking for.

WATCH: Calgary Firefighters Association president Mike Henson speaks to Dallas Flexhaug about the possibility local firefighters will see $9-million in budget cuts.

Click to play video: 'Calgary Firefighters Association anticipates $9-million in budget cuts'
Calgary Firefighters Association anticipates $9-million in budget cuts

Henson said the CFD has already had $20 million axed from its budget over the last four years.

“I believe [Fire Chief Steve Dongworth] has cut all the support services and background cuts that are possible,” Henson said.
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Forty new CFD recruits were also set to join the department as full-time firefighters, but according to Henson, those recruits won’t be joining any longer.

“Those 40 new recruits have been called and told they have been deferred indefinitely,” said Henson. “They are not going to be hired.”

Henson added that CFD is already understaffed and that these cuts will put more pressure on existing resources.

“[The recruits] would have been brought in to replace retirements but… we’re not bringing that class on July 15, so we’re going to be further understaffed.”

According to the City of Calgary database, CFD archives its self-imposed seven-minute response time on less than 85 per cent of calls.

Henson said budget restraints will mean fire crews may take longer to respond.

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“If you affect the firefighters on those trucks or the trucks themselves, that’s only going to be a lesser number that we’re going to meet that response time,” he said.

Ward 9 Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said he hasn’t been told the exact number that CFD will be asked to cut but that any reduction is not good for Calgarians.

“We knew there would be impact to front-line services,” Carra said. “Being unable to solve the tax shift… there’s a realization we have to drive down costs this year.”

Carra said city administration won’t reveal the details of the budget cut package until it’s brought to council on July 24.

Ward 13 City Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart said Tuesday she hasn’t heard the $9-million number, but added that regardless of what it ends up being, no group or service will be immune.

“Whether it’s the transit union or the firefighters or the Calgary Police Service, there are no sacred cows,” she said.

But not all of her fellow councillors agree emergency services will be impacted. Some have pointed to other areas to trim, like art budgets and cycle tracks.

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Both Colley-Urquhart and Mayor Naheed Nenshi said those areas are not usually where most of the city spending happens.

“You can’t exactly exempt anyone and if you’re going to go fishing, you got to go where the big fish are,” Nenshi said. “Council was very clear it wanted this cut, so this cut is going to have impact.”

“We can’t nibble around the edges anymore,” Colley-Urquhart added. “This isn’t going to be pretty but we have to stay the course. We don’t want to increase taxes at a time when people are losing their homes and they don’t have jobs.”

Global News reached out to the Calgary Fire Department to confirm the $9 million number, but have not heard back.

– With files from Global News’ Tomasia DaSilva

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