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City of Calgary looking at $62M shortfall in 2021 due to COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council freezes police budget but avoids cuts' Calgary city council freezes police budget but avoids cuts
WATCH (Nov. 26): Calgary city council will not be cutting the police budget, but as Adam MacVicar reports, the force will instead be asked to divert some money. – Nov 26, 2020

Like many Calgarians, the coronavirus pandemic has hit the city’s bottom line, and according to an update made public on Monday, the estimated impact will be approximately $74 million in 2020.

The impact in 2021 is expected to be less than that.

City officials say the net negative number for 2020 comes from lower transit ridership, closed recreation facilities and lost revenues from parking and building permits and does not include the police budget.

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Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he’s “not very fussed” about the year-end financials as the city closes the books on 2020.

“I’m actually quite pleased at how we’ve been able to manage the budget and cut costs in the city,” Nenshi said. “So I think we’re going to be OK for 2020, and I think we will still need a little bit of help in 2021, but I think we’ll be able to manage.”

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“The revenue loss on transit is enormous and that really is the biggest chunk of it.”

Calgary Transit continues to be the largest net loss for the city, losing $42.1 million between March 12 and Dec. 31, 2020 — a sum of $96.1 million in revenue loss, $6.2 million in incremental expenses and $60.2 million in estimated savings.

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Transit ridership has dropped by 75 per cent from 2019 levels, with the remaining service levels being maintained to serve frontline workers and “vulnerable populations,” while also allowing social distancing on buses and C-trains.

During the pandemic, the city said transit had three “major service adjustments” and 450 layoffs.

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s unemployment rate drops to 10.7% in January 2021' Alberta’s unemployment rate drops to 10.7% in January 2021
Alberta’s unemployment rate drops to 10.7% in January 2021 – Feb 5, 2021

Nenshi is confident ridership levels will return for transit as work-from-home orders lift.

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“I anticipate that will happen over the course of this year,” the mayor said.

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Having to close facilities twice due to provincial public health restrictions, the city’s recreation department has had to lay off and terminate 1,140 jobs, documents show.

Those workforce reductions helped in the $27.6 million of savings from recreation, which is facing $24.9 million in revenue losses and $3.2 million in incremental expenses — a roughly $600,000 net loss for that department.

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A majority of the City of Calgary’s services have the same demands on it as “business as usual.”

City documents show some business units have had a “shift in operational focus areas” and a shift in usage since the beginning of the pandemic.

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s unemployment rate continued its downward trend in the first month of 2021' Alberta’s unemployment rate continued its downward trend in the first month of 2021
Alberta’s unemployment rate continued its downward trend in the first month of 2021 – Feb 5, 2021

About a third of business units have had a “notable” increase in demand — units that include Calgary Parks, CEMA, Calgary Housing, information technology and human resources. 311 and crisis communications support and citizen polling have had seen more demand. More Calgarians are using city parks through the winter months and the city are adding new ice surfaces to increase capacity in parks like Bowness, North Glenmore, Barb Scott and Thomson Family Parks.

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Calgary Fire have had 17 per cent fewer calls for inspections, 29 per cent fewer calls to attend motor vehicle collisions, but 14 per cent more fire-related incidents to attend.

According to city documents, 94.2 per cent of property tax accounts on the Tax Installment Payment Plan (TIPP) have paid up as of Jan. 11. That compares to 98 per cent over the same period the year before. That remaining 5.8 per cent of accounts owe the city $67.5 million.

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The mayor said “typically” 100 per cent of accounts pay their municipal property taxes.

City officials estimate 2021 will end with a net operating gap of $62 million, the result of $189 million in lost revenues, $1 million in lost recoveries and $128 million in saved expenditures. That operating gap will continue to be driven by lower transit ridership, lower recreation bookings, and lower fine revenues from the Calgary Parking Authority and Calgary Police Service.

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