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'You can't have it both ways:' Calgary city manager warns

City of Calgary will have to look closely at services in the future as administrators grapple with weathering the economic storm

City of Calgary Manager Jeff Fielding.

Helen Pike / Metro

City of Calgary Manager Jeff Fielding.

Calgarians are in for a rude awakening in the next few years as the city faces tough choices to help grapple with the effects of the provincial economic downturn.

On Monday, city manager Jeff Fielding warned councillors about the city's $170 million operating budget gap for 2018, and an even more dire report to come for 2019 as the city weathers the aftermath of an economic storm.

Coun. Peter Demong said he's concerned about what approving new developments could do to the already suffering downtown vacancy rate.

"You've truly identified the strategic decisions we need to make as a community and as a council," said Fielding. "This is not going to be an easy conversation."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Demong put his finger on an incredibly important point; the challenge moving forward is going to be about city building in a fragile economic recovery period.

Fielding added that the city and developers were lucky the economic downturn hit while a lot of projects were in their advanced phases, and not just a shovels in the ground situation.

The mayor also told reporters that citizens should be wary of promises they're hearing at the doors.

"The council that's coming in is going to have to make some very tough decisions, partially for 2018, but really for the 2019 to 2022 business cycle, that will involve increased taxes or fees or significantly cut services – that will have to be the decision," said Nenshi. "If you have candidates coming to your door saying I'm going to invest way more in transit and police and I'm going to freeze taxes, you better ask em' how they're going to do that."

Fielding also warned that council can't have it both ways.

"You can't ask for certain types of programs to be extended, expanded and at the same time look for deep tax cuts," Fielding said. "We could potentially get there in a five-year timeframe, but it would be very difficult to get there in one year."

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