The City of Calgary finished 2021 with a budget surplus of $147 million.
Councillors received an update from city administration at a special meeting on Monday to discuss the annual financial report for 2021.
The city’s chief financial officer, Carla Male, recommended city council wait to allocate the surplus money until budget discussions in November in which council will build the next four-year budget cycle.
Calgary’s mayor agreed with the CFO but said city councillors can bring forward their own ideas to earmark those funds in the coming months.
“It makes a lot of sense to do it in a four year budget cycle, so that’s what I’m hoping we do,” Gondek told reporters. “It can be done outside the cadence of budget but it’s prudent to make sure that we make smart decisions when we can see every budget item.”
Until a decision is made, the surplus money will sit in a fiscal stability reserve.
But not all councillors were in favour of waiting until November’s budget talks to decide how to use the money.
Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot said he’s already had discussions with several of his council colleagues about allocating some of the surplus to sidewalk replacement across the city.
“There’s a lot of really bad sidewalks, a lot of trip hazards all over the city,” Chabot said. “I’ve identified a number of them in the northeast, many of them are being caused by roots from trees. So, tree replacement is another thing I want to bring forward.”
Chabot said he feels the money belongs to Calgarians and should be spent on one-time funding efforts that benefit the city as a whole.
“Let’s fix our roads, let’s fix our potholes, let’s fix some of those broken sidewalks and not tell folks that ‘sorry, we don’t have the money,'” Chabot said. “Well, looks like we do have the money.”
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp is also against council waiting until November to use some of the surplus funding.
Sharp said she’d like to see budget discussions around offsetting costs and reducing spending rather than entering those talks with an excess of capital funding.
“We have to be prudent with our spending and we also have to be very fiscally responsible, but what we need to look at is what the needs are by community ward,” Sharp said. “So if I’ve got roads in my area that haven’t been resurfaced, this is the time to be getting into that money and using it and every ward is going to have unique needs.”
City officials told council during their presentation that the surplus is a result of “prudent management” of city finances.
Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said the surplus isn’t because of “over-taxation,” but rather from higher returns on city investments and revenue from land sales.
“What we’re seeing is a large surplus predominantly from the value and the equity in the assets we hold, and that has come in part just due to inflation especially when we look at our real estate services,” Penner said.
According to Penner, “all things are on the table” when it comes to where the funds could be invested over the coming year, and it would be “wise” to consider earmarking the funds during budget deliberations.
“I know we have talked about transit, we have talked about bike paths, there’s any number in suite of opportunities we have to invest,” Penner said. “What we need to do is have consensus as a council on the best way to do that.”