Citizens, community organizations and interest groups got their turn at the microphone on Day 2 of Calgary’s budget meetings, with most looking for funding rather than cuts.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek warned council members that more than 100 people are signed up to speak, and presentations could spill over into Wednesday’s meeting. Throughout the morning, transportation, climate action and public safety were the common themes, as citizens took turns spending up to five minutes at the microphone.
Many speakers, including Steve Bentley of the Calgary Climate Hub, were critical of the budget’s lack of funding for climate initiatives.
“This budget is supposed to be our net-zero launch,” he said. “Between this council and the next, we will either miss or meet our 2030 net zero goals. Does this feel like a net-zero launch budget to you? I don’t feel it.”
Natalie Robertson also talked about the ways climate change is negatively affecting Calgary, such as with wildfire smoke in the summer.
“This council declared a climate emergency and I think it was me who was naive to think that it actually meant anything, (and) that the strategic direction that the council gave to admin was somehow in the budget would be reflected,” said Robertson.
Several speakers insisted on better service and more infrastructure for transport and cycling.
“The most important thing to improve transportation in my opinion is to increase frequency across the entire network,” said Sebastien Bergeron. “I live in a one-car household and I’d like to keep it that way. Fast, reliable and frequent transport is a key component in making this happen for me.”
Cycling advocate Brett Bergie said the city should return pedestrian and bicycle coordinator positions to the mobility team. She said not having these specialists on the team cost Calgary momentum in its cycling infrastructure.
Two speakers from business revitalization zones raised concerns about social disorder. Alison Karim-McSwiney of the International Avenue BRZ said they use private security in their area to supplement police officers in dealing with social disorder.
“Our complaint is not with the good people who serve this area, but with the extreme lack of frontline police resources. We are short of more than 35 officers in our district,” Karim-McSwiney said.
Annie MacInnis, executive director of the Kensington BRZ, said social disorder was also a growing problem in her area. She said Calgary is not alone in this concern — at a recent national conference of business improvement areas, it was the No. 1 concern for groups across the country.
“With our pedestrianized neighborhoods and increased population density, we are at the forefront of this social disorder, experiencing more and more disruption to businesses and daily life,” MacInnis said.
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Several organizations had funding requests, including Calgary Heritage Initiative Society which wanted $5 million for a residential heritage tax credit pilot program. Arts incubator cSpace was seeking an injection of $1 million over four years, saying its model has proven successful in helping the arts grow and create value for the city.
By mid-afternoon, only two speakers were advocating for lower taxes — both were business advocates seeking lower non-residential taxes. Deborah Yedlin of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce reiterated her call for a rebalancing of the tax share away from businesses.
Guy Huntingford, who represents a number of groups including the downtown chamber and business association, said a rebalancing of the tax share was needed to keep attracting businesses.
“Calgarians need a healthy and growing labor market to pay their taxes which in turn provides the services they desire,” he said.
Shovel. Sonya Sharp said she was surprised that so few speakers called for reduced taxes.
“That’s not what I’ve heard through emails and surveys I’ve looked at, plus all the system satisfaction work the city has done,” Sharp said.
She said she expected many people who would have concerns about higher taxes would not be free to speak to the council during the day.
The mayor said one thing she noticed about most of the presentations was the desire for sustainability.
“They are all looking for sustainability in one form or another. And what sustainability looks like to one Calgarian may be different to another, but the message is pretty clear that there are diverse people living in the city who are looking for diverse investments.”