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Public begins giving input in Calgary city budget debate

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council hears from public as budget deliberations get underway' Calgary city council hears from public as budget deliberations get underway
WATCH: Budget deliberations are underway at Calgary City Hall, and city councillors spent Monday hearing from the public about their concerns with proposed adjustments to the latest budget. Adam MacVicar reports. – Nov 23, 2020

Amid a protracted economic downturn and the continuing fiscal effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Calgary city council is deliberating where and how to make budget adjustments in the middle of the city’s four-year budget cycle.

And they’re starting with listening to Calgarians.

“It’s an interesting mix of folks that we’re hearing from,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday. “It seems right now the balance is more on people who are saying actually invest more, don’t cut more.”

Read more: Calgarians could see lower municipal taxes in 2021

At the start of the meeting, about 70 people signed up to provide presentations over the phone to council on Monday.

Members of organizations like Indefinite Arts, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Defund2Fund, the 17th Avenue Retail & Entertainment BIA and everyday citizens gave their presentations on budget documents that were presented to council earlier in the month.

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On Nov. 9, city officials provided council with a recommended package of adjustments. Administration found $90 million in savings for the city through base budget efficiencies and SAVE program ideas.

Read more: Calgarians’ satisfaction in city declines further amid COVID-19 pandemic: survey

That would result in a zero rate increase for residential properties and an overall decrease of non-residential property taxes of 0.55 per cent.

But because of the sub-categories of properties, different taxpayers will face different changes.

Click to play video: 'Mayor Nenshi talks about the 2021 budget' Mayor Nenshi talks about the 2021 budget
Mayor Nenshi talks about the 2021 budget – Nov 23, 2020

Single-family homes could see that zero per cent change in municipal taxes. But because of increased assessment value, high-rise multi-residential buildings could see more than a 12 per cent rate increase.

Similarly with non-residential, the pandemic’s hit on travel also hit hotel values, with those properties seeing an average of 31.2 per cent reduction in value, resulting in a possible 27 per cent drop in municipal taxes.

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Read more: Calgary Police Commission proposes $40-million police budget adjustment

Large-format industrial warehouses saw an average double-digit increase in value, and could face a more than 20 per cent increase in municipal taxes.

Concerns over municipal taxes for businesses and individuals, and over city expenditures, were addressed by some members of the public.

Also at issue are changes to the Calgary Police Service’s budget.

On Nov. 6, the Calgary Police Commission published its budget submissions to council, recommending a $40-million reduction in their budget — $20 million the service would absorb in COVID-19-related impacts, $10 million to eliminate 60 positions that were planned to be created in 2021 and $10 million that will be relocated to explore “alternative call response models.”

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That last item would have $8 million of CPS budget committed  “to working with partners to explore models of system integration involving health, social services, justice and police.”

Read more: New members take Calgary Police Commission in anti-racism direction

In early September, CPS chief Mark Neufeld, alongside commission chair Bonita Croft, said police officers “may not be the best responders for various types of calls involving mental health and addictions,” committing to reallocating funds from the CPS budget.

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Calgary firefighter union calls recommendation to close downtown fire hall ‘a disaster in the making’ – Oct 31, 2020

On Nov. 3, council passed a notice of motion to have administration bring forward data to explore two $10-million budget reallocations in the 2021 and 2022 budget years.

Public opinion on whether to reallocate CPS funds was met with mixed opinions, with some members of the public in support and some in opposition.

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And some directly and indirectly spoke to the difficulty in following the sequence of decisions following the initial CPS presentation in September, with one caller saying she would be willing to see more funds go to supports for mental health but does not support reallocating funds — the very thing groups like Defund2Fund are calling for.

Click to play video: 'Calgary Transit ridership recovers but far from pre-pandemic levels' Calgary Transit ridership recovers but far from pre-pandemic levels
Calgary Transit ridership recovers but far from pre-pandemic levels – Sep 15, 2020

Nenshi said presentations by members of the public have formed council direction in the past, including the recent decision to keep the low-income transit pass.

“When the province or the feds do (their budgets), the finance minister stands up, reads the budget and that’s that,” Nenshi said. “We actually release it a few weeks in advance. We debate it. And every single manager comes and justifies their budget.”

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Read more: Calgary city council puts new communities on hold

Each city department will be able to address council regarding adjustments after public submissions, with CPS expected to present on Wednesday morning.

City council is expected to make a decision on the mid-cycle adjustments by the end of the week.

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