Proposed cuts to Calgary Police and Transit reversed in budget deliberations
Council will go to taxpayers to put more police on the beat, but transit costs paid with reserves
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Calgary Police Service and Calgary Transit were able to avoid any cuts as Calgary City Council got down to the business of amending and approving the 2018 budget on Wednesday.
Council voted to approve a $20.8 million budget increase for the Calgary Police Service as its first vote in the budget.
Councillors also voted to avoid most transit cuts by restoring $4 million to Calgary Transit's budget which administration had recommended cutting by $4.7 million, and taking $4 million from the rainy day fund to cover the cost of low income passes.
Those transit spends ended up as a wash, according to Mayor Naheed Nenshi, meaning it won’t affect taxpayers' bottom line.
"Some of the more egregious cuts will be reversed and there's a little bit of money to invest in additional routes," said the mayor.
He added that a few of the cuts proposed by administration were "no brainers" but the money will help Calgary Transit avoid cutting most routes.
For police, the money came in two parts - $6.5 million to overcome suggested cuts by administration, and $14.3 million for about 48 new hires and body-worn cameras.
Three councillors, George Chahal, Joe Magliocca and Druh Farrell, voted against restoring the $6.5 million.
Chahal also voted against the $14.3 million, saying he thought all other city departments had found savings, so the police should too.
“I think public safety is extremely important and I support our frontline police officers, but my concerns were mostly about body-worn cameras and the lack of information and details on that program,” he said.
In a written statement, Calgary Police Commission chair Brian Thiessen thanked the council for approving the increase.
“We realize that it was a difficult decision in this economic climate,” said Thiessen. “However, we know that this increase is necessary to ensure that the service has sufficient resources to keep our city safe, and to prevent crime.”
On the matter of transit, it was another new councillor – Jyoti Gondek – who made the initial pitch to ensure riders were not left out in the cold.
After some discussion, councillors arrived at the break-even amendment which took $4 million from the Fiscal Stability Reserve, better known as the rainy day fund, to pay for the sliding scale low-income pass program.
That move freed up $4 million to go back to transit’s bottom line.
“Cutting transit right now would be a very unfortunate thing to do to a lot of Calgarians,” said Gondek.
She said she trusted administration to do what they were instructed to do in finding cost savings, but she didn’t want to balance costs with wait times.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for people at midnight to be waiting an extra 10 minutes to get to work, or to wherever they need to go,” she said.
On the two transit matters, the vote split was 8-7, although not with the same split each time.
Nenshi said at the end of Wednesday’s meeting that the tax increase for Calgarians is hovering just below a single percentage point, although councillors will still have more to discuss Thursday morning.