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Ward 11 - Jeromy Farkas

Ask Jeromy: November 2019 Questions

Ask Jeromy
What Jeromy likes the most about serving on council is hearing from citizens. Below are the top five questions/themes/topics we heard from you during the month of November.
While Jeromy does his best to answer each constituent question individually, below are what we thought you wanted answers on the most.
What about budget cuts?
I was disappointed that the majority of council did not have an appetite for non-essential spending cuts through the 2020 One Calgary Budget deliberations.
The proposal to cut all non-essential spending (not Fire, Police or 911) by an average of 5% was brought forward by Couns. Chu, Magliocca and myself ahead of budget deliberations.
Unfortunately, the bulk of council did not agree and council voted in the budget based on the 1.5% scenario presented by administration. I did not vote in favour of this.
Council voted in favour of the 1.5% scenario, and effectively brought this down to 0% through one-time money by administration from base budgets for 2021 and 2022. Yes, this does carry a risk.
Of course, here at City Hall zero doesn’t really mean zero and the average residential tax bill will see a monthly increase of 7.5% or $12.50 (which includes the provincial flow through to fill the gap of the $13M reduction from the provincial government).
Strip mall and neighbourhood shopping mall owners will see average increases of 14-18%.
Council also voted in favour of a full tax shift from a residential/non-residential split to 52:48 from 49:51. The methodology behind this is to ease the pain felt by the business community, which has felt cumulative increases of around 100% over the last five years.
This budget maintains city services for residents, as well as the Police budget. In my quest to cut non-essential spending, I had tried to return Arts funding back to the previous year and take those dollars to fill the police budget gap. The majority of Council simply had no stomach for cuts of any sort.
What did you bring forward through this budget?
I successfully brought forward a motion to redirect $200,000 allotted for public engagement on the citywide residential speed limit review to funding the DOAP team. This team does important work through the Alpha House in the areas of social disorder, wraparound service connections, homelessness and needle cleanup in public spaces.
From a fiscal perspective, it is more cost effective to deploy the DOAP team to pick up needles than it is to dispatch Fire Services.
With Couns. Chu and Magliocca, we were successful to earn council’s blessing to ask unions to explore voluntary wage cuts through their arbitrations this year. In addition to this, I have moved that Mayor and Council take a wage freeze for 2020 and automatically match any cuts taken by unions. The unions have pushed back heavily over the last several months, maintaining they have taken consecutive wage freezes.
While I appreciate these efforts made by the unions, I maintain these concessions pale in comparison to the private sector. Scores of constituents email and call my office daily to share with me the challenges they have faced since the economic downturn began nearly six years ago.
Unemployment runs high, underemployment probably even higher. The vast majority of people I speak to from the private sector consider themselves fortunate to even have employment at this time, and I am hard-pressed to find anyone who has been afforded a raise, many more who are working for less than several years ago with limited benefits and no pension plan.
The situation for small business owners is also something that keeps me up at night.
While I am hopeful the tax shift will provide some ease, I strongly suggest we need to look at the bigger picture. We need a culture shift at City Hall and in order to do this, it must come through cuts and rather than this annual Russian Roulette, City-Hall style of pulling the trigger on either the home owner or business owner, I think these efficiencies are right in front of us.
Where do you stand on the arena deal?
Given the City’s current economic plight, I felt it was my responsibility to support re-opening the conversation on the arena deal during budget deliberations.
While this was not the will of Council and the arena is now an inked deal, as of Dec. 5, 2019, I heard plenty of feedback from a very divided constituency on this one and thought it best to outline my reasoning here.
When the City is faced with scaling back on services, hiking taxes and a gap in the police budget in the face of spiking crime rates, and an opioid and mental health crisis, we need to place our needs before our wants. Elected officials must make sure they are not signing the taxpayer up for a bad business deal with too many unanswered questions.
By opening up the conversation, there could be a number of outcomes including revising the scope of the project or to ensure the timing doesn’t leave the City exposed to extreme financial risk on the Green Line.
The City needs money for essential services such as police, fire and transit. Calgary is the only major city in North America without a downtown police station, and the community is facing huge impacts as a result of the opening of the safe injection site. I am supportive of maintaining funding for the essentials and finding fair efficiencies through wages and non-essential spending cuts – not on the backs of the City’s most vulnerable.
While I did vote against the new arena in July, my decision was rooted in concern over the absence of public consultation and the timing. Given that the deal was yet to be formalized ahead of the budget, four months since council gave the green light, it would seem prudent to make sure the City gets it right and can afford a new arena at this time.
What is happening with Route 66 through Lakeview?
The community spoke loud and clear on this one: keep the bus right where it is and keep it off 34 th St. SW. I am proud to share that our community advocacy to maintain transit on 37 th Street SW was successful!
My team and I engaged heavily with the Lakeview community and learned that the community overwhelmingly was not supportive of putting the bus onto 34 th Street, namely due to safety concerns. The Connect Charter School penned a letter, as did the Lakeview Community Association, to attest to these concerns.
Individual community members reached out in scores to let us know they were concerned that 34 th Street did not have the capacity to handle the additional bus traffic. This was also the sentiment we learned through an evening of door knocking. We were hard-pressed to find more than a couple of residents who were either in favour of putting the bus on 34 th or indifferent to the proposal.  
This groundwork prompted by urgent notice of motion in committee in order to advocate on behalf of the will of the community.
While Calgary Transit, like all City departments, operates on numbers and data this is a clear case where spreadsheets don’t tell us everything we need to know. When we make decisions that affect a community, it is imperative we consider the will of the community – if the community the City is setting out to serve doesn’t want it, don’t force it!
There were some concerning parameters of that deal that continue to bother me, including leaving the city on the hook for flood insurance – given that we are still far from our citywide goal to implement flood mitigation to protect Calgary from a repeat event of 2013, as we await these decisions to be made by the province.
I love the Flames and do see merit in the economic benefits that a new arena could drive. My concern is to help make sure the City isn’t on the losing end of this deal and to keep my finger on the pulse of accountability, fiscal and otherwise, moving forward.
Where are you focusing your efforts, now that budget is wrapped up and 2020 is on the horizon?
I asked and you answered. Safety and security are at the forefront for Ward 11 residents and Calgarians in general.
Ward 11 is comprised of the most communities in all 14 wards in the city, including a portion of the Beltline and a number of central-south communities along the C-Train corridor.
With crime rates in the downtown, with violent crime and break and enters up 55% and 35% from the year before (according to Calgary Police Services stats) I know that this is impacting daily life for far too many.
There is also disenfranchisement spilling south along the corridor and many of our Ward 11 community members report increased vehicle thefts, social disorder, drug-related crimes and behaviour and needle paraphernalia in the parks where their children are at play.
This all factored into my decision to vie for a Council position on the Calgary Police Commission. In November, I was sworn in on the Commission and I could not be happier.
I pursued this role because you have reached out to me that this where I need to be investing my time and where the City needs to invest your hard-earned dollars.
Through this role, my priorities are to:
·         Hold CPS accountable to manage finances
·         Ensure that the community has a voice in public safety
·         Encourage efforts for CPS to better reflect the diversity of the community and implement needed human resource reforms
·         Ensure that CPS has the resources it needs to keep the city safe
As always, reach out to me and my team if you have any ideas or would like to meet with me.

This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.

This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.