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.
CPS is requesting a seven percent budget increase from $433.6 million in 2022 to $467.5 million in 2026.
As part of the four-year budget, the police service aims to increase staffing levels by 5.1 percent, which includes adding 20 frontline patrol officers, 19 new officers and 35 civilian positions in 2023.
Overall, CPS wants to add 154 new jobs by 2026; 110 of those would be sworn officers.
Police Chief Mark Neufeld said the increased funding will help improve response times and enable proactive policing.
Citizen Perceptions of the Calgary Police Across the Board: Survey
“Right now we’re responding very well, but I think … it’s going to get us to the place where we can get back in front of that,” Neufeld told reporters. “Be able to get into a place where we can prevent crime and harm instead of reacting 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 cycle and facility maintenance.
Neufeld described the four-year plan as a “stability budget” stemming from 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 ability to change and our ability to undertake major transformational efforts beyond what we already have in flight, I think is limited.”
Neufeld added that the funding will also allow the police service to re-evaluate previous decisions such as temporarily suspending mountain bike units and beat teams to respond to a higher call volume.
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.
The Council learned in July that the fire department would have to see its budget double to meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.
Although NFPA standards are not a regulatory standard, the fire department requested a $50 million increase in operational funding to help improve response times.
Funding to improve Calgary firefighter response not expected until 2025, document reveals
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 it takes the fire department 13 minutes to form an effective firefighting force of two fire trucks, one air truck and a minimum of 12 firefighters for a serious fire. The target for the department is to get that response time down to 11 minutes, 90 percent of the time.
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 because of challenges with EMS response, the fire chief said the department will continue to feel stretched.
“It’s not like there was nothing in (the budget) — it’s just that we’re now starting to see some cracks appear in terms of maintaining our service,” Dongworth said. “Especially if we get the predicted 80,000-plus calls this year; that would be approximately a 33 percent 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 will help with staffing levels, provide 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 the scene, we have to take care of them,” Gondek said. “Times aren’t what they used to be, we don’t have enough partnerships for EMS to provide the services they need.”
Calgary 911 and Bylaw
Council heard that 911 dispatchers are expected to receive one million calls in Calgary next year.
To meet the demand, Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Sue Henry said 77 more staff will be needed over the next four years.
She told the board that the increase in demand “comes with a toll.”
“Our short-term medical leave has increased sharply as staff have reached their breaking point under the volume of calls,” Henry said.
“We cannot keep up with demand with our current resources.”
Calgary Bylaw is also looking to hire an additional nine new staff to help improve safety downtown and on Calgary Transit.
Typical Calgary home to see 5.2 per cent property tax increase in proposed four-year budget
The budget proposes an overall property tax increase next year of 4.4 percent with an average tax increase of 3.7 percent over the remaining years of the four-year budget.
The Council asked the administration to keep spending and tax increases below the rate of inflation and population growth over the coming years.
“It’s important to find a balance between services and costs,” Carla Male, the city’s chief financial officer, told the council.
“We can’t do all the things Calgarians want because our resources are limited and we have to keep taxes affordable.”
The public will have a chance to have their say on the four-year budget during a public hearing on Tuesday.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.