More than 100 Calgarians lined up at City Hall on Tuesday to have their say on 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 transportation 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 about 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 Center won’t be able to afford it,” she told Global News.
Improving Calgary Transit service was a topic raised by several speakers before council Tuesday, with some speakers such as David Cooper calling for increased frequency of trains and buses during peak times such as 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 doesn’t have minimum service standards, and you can do that within the existing budget envelope with the reallocation of service,” Cooper said. “There is a huge opportunity to improve (service) for thousands of Calgarians who rely on it.”
Researchers suggest rethinking Calgary Transit funding ahead of budget
Public transportation was among several concerns for Molli Bennett, the president of Bike Calgary, who pushed council for more investment for active transportation infrastructure in a “disappointing proposed budget.”
“There’s not a lot of growth for active transportation, which is contrary to policies that the council administration has ordered to do,” Bennett told Global News.
Wearing green scarves, the Calgary Climate Hub and several advocates used their five minutes in front of council to raise concerns about proposed spending on climate initiatives.
Several speakers criticized the proposed budget following the climate emergency declaration last year, and the 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 the council. “Between this council and the next, we are either missing or meeting our 2030 net-zero goals.
“Does that feel like a net-zero launch budget to you? I don’t.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters during an afternoon break that the council had taken an “important step” by declaring a climate emergency, but still needed to meet its climate commitments.
Emergency services are seeking more funding in the upcoming Calgary budget
“It will come over time, and it will come in increments,” Gondek said.
“I think the fact that we really haven’t acted for many years has brought us to this point and we’re committed to doing better.”
Representatives of the city’s business community were on hand throughout the day to advocate for lower non-residential taxes.
Deborah Yedlin, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce, called for the council to shift the tax distribution from businesses. Currently, 52 percent of city property taxes are covered by residential properties, with the remaining 48 percent from businesses.
The Chamber’s proposal would shift the tax split to 60 percent on residential properties by 2026, which Yedlin said would help the city’s competitiveness in attracting investment.
“It’s not just about Calgary. It’s 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 startup ecosystem — which contributes to our economic diversification — can be successful; this is one way to ensure that it happens.”
With a proposed overall tax increase of 4.4 percent next year, some council members were surprised there weren’t more speakers advocating for lower taxes during Tuesday’s portion of the public hearing.
Calgary’s business community unpacks city’s proposed 4-year budget
“That’s not what I’ve heard through emails and through surveys that I’ve looked at,” Ward 1 Councilwoman Sonya Sharp said.
Sharply noted property taxes are a concern for many Calgarians despite the lack of speakers on the matter Tuesday.
“In general, people who are really concerned about their taxes can’t come here or make that phone call,” Sharp said.
“So we also have to take it into perspective.”
The public hearing on the proposed budget continues Wednesday morning, which will be followed by questions of clarification from council members.
The city council will then present amendments to the budget for debate.
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.