How I voted on 2021 Budget Adjustments
It is good to see the increased attention that City Council has been getting recently. It is by no means perfect, but we have seen strides in involvement, and transparency around decision making over the past year or so. One of the trends I am glad to see is Council members sharing their thought processes with their constituents. I did this for our last budget discussions, and I would like to do it again for you now.
I believe the increased attention to Council has helped achieve something I have been long striving for—a decrease in the City’s budget. The first thing that happens during every budget discussion is a presentation from our administration. Earlier in the year Council directed administration to develop a budget with zero increase from the year prior. I was pleased to see that administration took cues from the City’s current economic situation. On Monday, November 23 the City Manager and Chief Financial Officer presented a planned overall budget decrease of 1.66%.
It is very important to note that these numbers refer to the City’s overall budget, and not the taxes payed by any given individual or business. The amount of property tax payed is determined by two factors - the City’s budget, and the relative change in value of a given property. This means during some years the tax burden can shift heavily from one type of property to another. This year large warehouses, along with some strip malls and businesses are seeing a sharp increase in their share.
As always, City administration’s presentation was followed by roughly a days’ worth of presentations from the public. On Tuesday, we returned to hear presentations from, and ask questions of individual City departments. This included special presentations relating to the budgetary impacts of COVID-19, and the Calgary Police Service. These presentations lasted through Wednesday, and on Thursday morning we began the real debates and decision-making.
We tackled the police budget first. The discussion started with an amendment from Cllr. Magliocca to restore $10 million to the police budget from City reserves. Cllr. Farkas then proposed a change that would see this money come from the City’s Arts & Culture budget rather than reserves. I have made many attempts to bring reason and restraint to the City’s spending on wants like arts, but this scenario is different like many things this year. Just like most businesses the arts and culture organizations that receive this funding employ people, trades, consultants, and contractors. Now is not the time to put them in a position to break those relationships. I believe that would only add to police workload. I am not in favour of reducing the police budget this year though, so I voted in favour of Cllr. Magliocca’s motion to find money to retain the police budget from reserves. The motion failed.
Then Cllr. Colley-Urquhart and I proposed an amendment to retain $8 million in the police budget to focus on frontline policing and continue to build upon 26 Calgary Police Service community partnership programs focused on addressing education, prevention, early intervention, treatment, and enforcement community issues. I do believe that we can have better outcomes for all Calgarians, and prevent crime in new innovative ways, but I do not believe that reducing the police budget is the way to achieve those goals. The motion failed, and Cllr. Carra proposed a different amendment. He proposed the transfer of $8 million in the Calgary Police in 2021 to support similar “community” policing programs (what is called the Community Safety Investment Framework), and build a plan to spend an extra $10 million coming the Police budget in 2022 for similar programs. Cllr. Davison then tried to change the amendment to take the $8 million from reserves, rather than the Police budget, encourage the Calgary Police Commission to participate financially in the Community Safety Investment Framework, direct City administration to consider additional funding sources for the $10 million in 2022, and engage other orders of government to participate in these efforts. I was supportive of this change, which was successful. We then dove in to some minutia regarding committees, reports, and timelines followed by votes on Cllr. Carra’s altered amendment, and then the Police budget as a whole. In the end I voted for a budget that funded efforts to come up with new and improved forms of policing from reserves rather than the Police budget and the Police Commission budget.
With the Police budget behind us, we moved on to three more amendments to the rest of the budget. The first was an attempt by Cllr. Farkas to find funds in reserves to replace some sound attenuation walls that had fallen in to disrepair. The Transportation department did not have enough to make these fixes in their budget. This is a safety issue, and also a matter of maintaining a basic level of pride in our communities. I supported this, since it would not impact the tax rate. It was referred to the Transportation & Transit Committee for review, which I did not support.
Councillor Farrell then proposed a motion to approve $2.5 million per year for 2021 and 2022 to be used for increasing Calgary’s tree canopy. This money would also come from a reserve. I amended the motion to read “improving” the canopy, rather than increasing. With that change, I supported the motion. As a Councillor who has spent years representing communities lined with poplar trees that are past their prime I am keenly aware of the importance of our tree canopy, and the importance of managing it wisely.
I then made what I believe to be a very reasonable proposal to delay some extra funding to City heritage conservation tools and incentives until 2023. Thankfully Council adopted this spending concession. These tools and incentives have value, but are not necessary during this time.
Council followed this by addressing the uneven tax burden shift to certain types of commercial properties created by our legislated tax system. The motion to cap any potential tax increase over 10% using funds from a reserve. I was supportive of this motion. We need to find a way to stop these unmanageable, and unforeseeable increases in individual tax bills.
I have not supported all City budgets, but I was willing to this year. After years of whittling away to find savings, getting behind the first budget decrease in recent memory is a no-brainer for me. After days of deliberation, my proposed heritage spending concession brought the finalized budget to a 1.77% decrease from last year. As I have mentioned before, it is important to remember that specific tax impacts for 2021 will vary depending on the property type and changes in assessment value.
Categories: Motions and Initiatives