Despite assurances from the UCP government that funding for municipal policing wouldn’t be cut, Calgary Police say they’re facing a $13 million shortfall as a result of the provincial budget.
The UCP will hike the province’s share of fine revenue from 26.7 per cent to 40 per cent, amounting to $10 million annually that will no longer be returned to Calgary Police Service (CPS) budgets, according to analysis presented at a special city hall meeting Monday on the impact of the provincial budget on Calgary.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city had anticipated some of the cuts to capital funding, but the fact that the largest operating cut was to police was “really surprising.”
“From a government that prides itself on law and order, the fact that the biggest whack by far that they took to the city’s budget was to the police, is pretty surprising to me,” Nenshi said Monday.
We’ve really become the architects of our own misfortune.Coun. Jeromy Farkas
The province will also impose new charges for DNA testing and lab analysis which could cost CPS up to $2 million annually. A program that previously helped fund training related to cannabis legalization was also cancelled, worth about $1 million.
Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said Monday that the police have already absorbed budget reductions of $20 million over the last couple of years, including those that were part of last July’s cut to fund a tax break for business.
“We’re an efficient organization the way it is now,” said Neufeld. “But 86 per cent of our budget is people, so you start talking about numbers like $13 million, that’s about 130 positions is what that equates to.
“This is very significant for us for sure.”
City staff members are still crunching the numbers from last week’s provincial budget and Nenshi said council will have to make some “tough decisions” during November’s municipal budget deliberations.
“There’s only three options here: you increase taxes, the police take a cut, or (other departments) take a cut to cover for the police — and remember, the police is our largest department. These are not easy decisions that council will be facing,” said Nenshi.
Monday’s meeting saw city staff identify key areas where Calgary will feel the pinch of provincial cutbacks.
The city estimates that there will be a $71 million reduction in capital transfers from the province, money typically used to pay for the construction of parks, recreation facilities, bridges and roads. Many projects will have to be delayed, deferred or cancelled altogether, Nenshi said.
A rental assistance program for low-income Calgarians is also expected to suffer a 24 per cent reduction over three years, starting in 2020. There could also be increased wait times for housing and possible unit closures.
Officials also confirmed that the construction start date and opening date of Calgary’s Green Line LRT project could be delayed as a result of the province electing to cut $480 million in expected funding over four years.
Nenshi and Coun. Shane Keating have both said they would be reluctant to forge ahead with the $4.9-billion line if the city had to take on more debt to fund construction. The city is currently in talks with Ottawa to determine if the federal portion of funding could be released sooner. Council members are expected to discuss the matter further at the first meeting of council’s new Green Line committee on Nov. 15.
Monday’s meeting also saw some council members, including Coun. Jeromy Farkas and Diane Colley-Urquhart, praising the new provincial government.
“I 100 per cent support the direction the province is taking,” said Colley-Urquhart.
Farkas said Calgarians voted for the new government and that city council should carry the blame for “blowing” through its reserves on “unneeded” projects like the new arena, BMO Centre, Arts Commons and the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund (OCIF).
“I think this budget is uncomfortable particularly because it highlights some of council’s questionable decisions coming back to roost,” said Farkas. “We’ve really become the architects of our own misfortune.”
Several council members pushed back on Farkas’ argument, in some cases to defend the city’s fiscal track record, and in one case, to defend spending on the new arena.
“I have real issues when we talk about the projects that we approved as a waste of money or luxury projects,” said Coun. Ward Sutherland, making the case for the new arena and BMO Centre as economic-activity generators. “What we didn’t talk about is, what is Calgary without a professional team? How much is that worth?”
Nenshi rejected the idea that council hasn’t properly managed municipal finances. The mayor argued that while the successive provincial governments have struggled to achieve balanced budgets, the city delivered 11 balanced budgets since 2008.
“I will not be lectured by a provincial government that (has) been spendthrift but do not know how to manage their budgets,” said Nenshi. “We cut $641 million from our budget. I will not be lectured by someone who calls this council spendthrift when we have the lowest taxes in the country, when we have the highest citizen satisfaction ratings in the country.”