More than 100 Calgarians lined up at city hall on Tuesday to have their say about the city’s upcoming four-year budget.
The public hearing, on the second day of the city’s budget deliberations, featured citizens and community organizations, with transit and climate initiatives a common theme throughout the day.
Hilary Chappele, an advocate for vulnerable Calgarians, spoke to city council about accessibility challenges at bus stops.
Chappele, who experienced homelessness eight years ago, also raised concerns with rising costs for low-income transit passes proposed in the budget.
“The low-income transit pass for our homeless people, if it goes much higher, a lot of our friends at the Women’s Centre won’t be able to afford it,” she told Global News.
Improving Calgary Transit service was a topic raised by several speakers in front of council on Tuesday, with some speakers like David Cooper calling for increased frequency of trains and buses during off-peak hours like evenings and weekends.
Cooper, who runs Leading Mobility, said increasing frequency of buses and trains to a minimum service standard of every 15 minutes could be achieved without major increases in funding in the budget.
“Calgary is one of the few cities of its size that does not have minimum service standards, and you can do that within the existing budget envelope with the reallocation of service,” Cooper said. “There’s a huge opportunity to improve (service) for thousands of Calgarians that rely on it.”
Public transportation was among several concerns for Molli Bennett, the president of Bike Calgary, who pressed council for more investments for active transportation infrastructure in a “disappointing proposed budget.”
“There’s not a lot of growth for active transportation, which is counter to policies that council has directed administration to do,” Bennett told Global News.
Sporting green scarves, the Calgary Climate Hub and several advocates used their five minutes in front of council to raise concerns with proposed spending on climate initiatives.
Several speakers criticized the proposed budget following the climate emergency declaration last year, and council’s approval of a strategy to reduce carbon emissions earlier this year.
“This budget is supposed to be our net-zero launch,” Steve Bentley with the Climate Hub told council. “Between this council and the next, that’s us either missing or meeting our 2030 net-zero goals.
“Does this feel like a net-zero launch budget to you? I’m not feeling it.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters during an afternoon break that council took an “important step” by declaring a climate emergency, but still needs to deliver on its climate commitments.
“That will come in time, and that will come in increments,” Gondek said.
“I think the fact that we really didn’t take action for many years has brought us to this point and we’re committed to doing better.”
Representatives from the city’s business community were on-hand throughout the day to advocate for lower non-residential taxes.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Deborah Yedlin called for council to shift the tax distribution off businesses. Currently, 52 per cent of city property taxes are covered by residential properties, with the remaining 48 per cent from businesses.
The Chamber’s proposal would see the tax distribution shifted to 60 per cent on residential properties by 2026, which Yedlin said would help with the city’s competitiveness to attract investment.
“This isn’t just about Calgary. This is about how we attract talent, how we grow our economy and how we make sure we’re competitive going forward,” Yedlin told Global News.
“Let’s make sure that start-up ecosystem — which is contributing to our economic diversification — can be successful; this is one way to ensure that happens.”
With a proposed overall tax increase of 4.4 per cent next year, some councillors were surprised there weren’t more speakers advocating for lower taxes during Tuesday’s portion of the public hearing.
“That’s not what I’ve been hearing through emails and through surveys that I’ve been looking at,” said Ward 1 councillor Sonya Sharp.
Sharp noted property taxes are a concern for many Calgarians despite the lack of speakers on the matter on Tuesday.
“Generally, people who are really concerned about their taxes might not be able to get here or make that phone call in,” Sharp said.
“So we also have to take that into perspective.”
The public hearing on the proposed budget will continue Wednesday morning, which will be followed by questions of clarification from councillors.
City council will then bring forward amendments to the budget for debate.