The Council heard from more than a dozen civil partners on Monday
Public safety took center stage in City Hall’s budget deliberations Monday, as Calgary’s protective services asked council for a funding injection to improve staffing and response times.
Council heard from more than a dozen civic partners, including the police and fire services, as they began a weeklong meeting to approve a four-year budget for the city.
The administration’s proposed budget calls for council to approve a 4.4 percent property tax increase next year, and an average increase of 3.7 percent annually through 2026.
The proposed document would increase the operating budget of the Calgary Police Service by $34 million over four years, as well as $77 million in capital spending. The police service wants to add 154 new posts by 2026.
Police Chief Mark Neufeld said those investments are necessary, while acknowledging a recent decline in Calgarians’ trust in the police. Recent data from the Calgary Police Commission found 77 per cent of Calgarians say they have high or moderate confidence in CPS, down from 85 per cent two years ago.
“High attrition rates coupled with recruiting and training challenges during the pandemic have left CPS with a tired and depleted workforce,” Neufeld said.
“What this budget request allows us to do is increase public safety capacity for frontline responses. This translates into things like faster response times.”
Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said while there are proposed funding increases in the budget for CFD, the service will continue to experience stress. City administrators are recommending an additional $33 million in operating funding and another $73.7 million on the capital side over the next four years.
Dongworth said the fire department currently takes an average of more than 13 minutes to effectively begin fighting a serious fire, with the target being a response within 11 minutes, 90 percent of the time. Those times are longer in communities on the edge of the city, Dongworth said, adding that fires tend to double in size every 30 seconds.
“Density and new construction challenge us the most,” he said. “We know this budget presentation means help is coming. But it will not be a cure.”
Dongworth asked the council for capital investments for new fire stations to boost those periphery response times, as well as replace some fire apparatus.
Public safety is a growing concern for Calgarians, said city General Manager of Community Services Katie Black. She cited city surveys that found 77 percent of people reported an overall sense of safety in 2022, down 10 percentage points from 2020.
Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Sue Henry said Calgary’s call dispatch process has become more complex since the last budget because of a provincial decision to centralize 911 dispatch to Alberta Health Services. She said short-term staff medical leave is increasing amid the increased pressure.
“We cannot keep up with the demand with our current resources,” Henry said.
“We are asking for an additional 77 people in 911 over the next four years, which will help us keep up with the increased calls, reduce staff burnout and reduce the call wait time for non-emergency calls.”
Meanwhile, Calgary bylaw chief Ryan Pleckaitis said his department is looking for nine more peace officer positions to be added to downtown communities, intended to increase officer visibility and promote a sense of safety for people who work in the core and live
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Calgary Economic Development (CED) Board Chair Joe Lougheed told the board it is critical to make investments that build on Calgary’s strengths, support a diversified economy and attract talent to Calgary.
“The momentum we have seen is very encouraging. A new Calgary is rising and the world is taking notice,” said Lougheed.
Brad Parry, president and CEO of the CED, said their priorities for the next four years are about building a vibrant city with a resilient economy, and positioning Calgary to attract talent and global attention.
Tourism Calgary CEO Cindy Ady said the city’s convention capacity will double by 2024, which is behind a request for an additional investment of $2 million a year in their meeting and convention bid fund.
“The opening of the BMO Center in 2024 represents a generational opportunity to grow Calgary’s visitor economy,” said Ady.
She said the investment would generate a return of $70 million through the meetings and conventions brought to the city.
“But the benefits won’t end there,” Ady said, adding that it would also support the downtown strategy, bring events to the city during the winter and encourage other economic growth.
Tourism Calgary also asked council for $1 million a year for a collaborative effort with CED and the City of Calgary to launch a new “story and brand” for Calgary.
Among the other civic partners who presented budget requests to city council Monday was Calgary Public Library CEO Sarah Meilleur. She said there are 745,000 active library members in the city – a historic high in the library’s 110 years.
“Our growth is always tied to community needs,” she said. “Our community needs the library now more than ever.”
She said the proposed budget would support their plan to build new libraries by 2026, expand learning opportunities and support downtown facilities.
Shovel. Terry Wong asked about the condition and age of the library in his home community in Ward 7, Louise Riley Library.
Meilleur said it is the oldest of the 21 facilities operated by the Calgary Public Library, at 65 years old. There is a plan to reinvest in downtown infrastructure, which will include that library, she explained.
The Council will continue discussion of the four-year budget plan on Tuesday when the meeting will open its floor to the public for feedback.