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Emergency services seek more funding in upcoming Calgary budget

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Emergency services seek funding increase in Calgary budget
WATCH ABOVE: Emergency services, including the fire department and police, are asking for funding increases in Calgary’s upcoming four-year budget. Adam MacVicar reports from Day 1 of budget deliberations. – Nov 21, 2022

Both the Calgary Police Service and the Calgary Fire Department are seeking increases in funding as city council begins debating the proposed four-year budget.

Emergency services were among 18 city services and community organizations that presented to council on the first day of deliberations for the 2023-2026 budget.

Calgary police

CPS is requesting a seven per cent budget increase over from $433.6 million in 2022 to $467.5 million in 2026.

As part of the four-year budget, the police service is looking to increase staffing levels by 5.1 per cent, which includes the addition of 20 front-line patrol officers, 19 new officers and 35 civilian positions in 2023.

Overall, CPS wants to add 154 new positions by 2026; 110 of those would be sworn officers.

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Police chief Mark Neufeld said the increased funding would help improve response times and allow for proactive policing.

“Right now, we’re responding very well, but I think… this is going to get us to the place where we can get out in front of it again,” Neufeld told reporters. “Be able to get into a place where we can prevent crime and harm instead of responding to it.”

The police budget also includes a proposed $77 million in capital funding, which Neufeld said would cover an internal human resources modernization, equipment life-cycling and facility maintenance.

Neufeld described the four-year plan as a “stability budget” coming out of the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a depleted workforce. It’s a real priority to build that up,” Neufeld said.

“Our capacity for change and our ability to take on major transformational efforts beyond what we already have in flight, I think is limited.”

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Neufeld added that the funding would also allow the police service to re-evaluate past decisions like temporary shutdowns of mountain bike units and beat teams to respond to a higher call volume.

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Calgary Fire Department

The proposed budget has a funding increase of $33 million for the CFD over the next four years.

The budget also includes an additional $73 million in capital funding to support the construction of new fire stations in Haskayne, Belmont, Shepard and Livingston.

“We know this budget submission means help is coming, but it won’t be a cure-all,” fire chief Steve Dongworth told council.

Council learned in July that the fire department would need to see its budget doubled to reach National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.

Although NFPA standards aren’t a regulatory standard, the fire department requested an increase of $50 million in operational funding to help improve response times.

The proposed funding is less than requested, but would allow the fire department to hire 184 firefighters over the next four years and bring back a downtown medical response unit.

Dongworth told council that it takes the fire department 13 minutes to form an effective firefighting force of two fire engines, one aerial truck and a minimum of 12 firefighters for a serious fire.  The target for the department is to lower that response time within 11 minutes, 90 per cent of the time.

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According to Dongworth, the proposed budget could help reduce that response time by a minimum of 20 seconds.

But with firefighters increasingly responding to medical calls due to challenges with EMS response, the fire chief said the department will continue to feel stretched.

“It’s not as if there was nothing in (the budget) — it’s just we are starting to see some cracks appear right now in terms of sustaining our service,” Dongworth said. “Especially if we get the predicted 80,000-plus calls this year; that’ll be about a 33 per cent increase in call volume within three years.”

In response to a question from Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Dongworth said an additional $9 million over the next four years would help with staffing levels, allow for a second medical response vehicle and further reduce the response time for an effective firefighting force.

“As long as our first responders are first on scene, we have to be taking care of them,” Gondek said. “Times are not what they were, we do not have adequate partnerships for EMS to deliver the services they need to.”

Calgary 911 and Bylaw

Council heard 911 dispatchers are projected to receive one-million calls in Calgary next year.

To meet the demand, Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Sue Henry said 77 more staff would be required over the next four years.

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She told council that the increase in demand “comes with a toll.”

“Our short-term medical leaves have sharply increased as staff have hit their breaking point under the volume of calls,” Henry said.

“We cannot keep up to the demand with our current resourcing.”

Calgary Bylaw is also seeking an additional nine new staff to help improve safety in the downtown core and on Calgary Transit.

The budget proposes an overall property tax increase of 4.4 per cent next year with an average tax increase of 3.7 per cent over the remaining years of the four-year budget.

Council had asked administration to keep spending and tax increases below the rate of inflation and population growth over the coming years.

“Striking a balance between services and costs is key,” Carla Male, the city’s chief financial officer, told council.

“We can’t do all the things that Calgarians want because our resources are limited and we need to keep taxes affordable.”

The public will get a chance to have its say on the four-year budget during a public hearing on Tuesday.

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