Calgary police, fire among groups seeking more funds in four-year budget

Council heard from more than a dozen civic partners Monday

Public safety took centre stage in city hall’s budget deliberations Monday as Calgary’s protective services asked council for a funding injection to boost staffing and response times.

Council heard from more than a dozen civic partners, including police and fire services, as they began a weeklong meeting to approve a four-year budget for the city.

You are reading: Calgary police, fire among groups seeking more funds in four-year budget

The proposed budget from administration asks council to approve a 4.4 per cent property tax increase next year, and an average 3.7 per cent rise annually through 2026.

The proposed document would see the Calgary Police Service operating budget increase by $34 million over four years, as well as $77 million in capital spending. The police service wants to add 154 new positions through 2026.

“High attrition rates coupled with recruiting and training challenges during the pandemic have left CPS with a tired and depleted workforce,” Neufeld said.

“What this budget ask allows us to do is increase capacity for public safety for front-line responses. That translates to things like faster response times.”

Dongworth said the fire department is currently taking more than 13 minutes on average to begin effectively fighting a serious fire, with the target being a response within 11 minutes, 90 per cent of the time. Those times are longer in communities on the edge of the city, Dongworth said, adding that fires tend to double in size every 30 seconds.

“Density and new construction challenge us the most,” he said. “We know this budget submission means help is coming. But it will not be a cure-all.”

Dongworth asked council for capital investments for new fire stations to boost those periphery response times, as well as to replace some fire apparatus.

FILE PHOTO: Firefighters responded to a two-alarm fire on Bannister Road in southeast Calgary on Thursday, November 10, 2022.
FILE PHOTO: Firefighters responded to a two-alarm fire on Bannister Road in southeast Calgary on Thursday, November 10, 2022.Al Charest/Postmedia

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Public safety is a growing concern for Calgarians, said city general manager of community services Katie Black. She cited city surveying that found 77 per cent of people reported an overall feeling of safety in 2022, down 10 percentage points from 2020.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry said Calgary’s call dispatch process has become more complex since the last budget as a result of a provincial decision to centralize 911 dispatch to Alberta Health Services. She said short-term staff medical leaves are spiking amid the increased pressures.

“We cannot keep up with the demand with our current resourcing,” Henry said.

“We are asking for an additional 77 people in 911 over the next four years, which will help us keep pace with the increased calls, reduce staff burnout and decrease the call wait time for non-emergency calls.”

Meanwhile, Calgary chief bylaw officer Ryan Pleckaitis said his department was seeking nine more peace officer positions to be added to communities in the downtown, meant to increase officer visibility and boost a sense of safety for people working and living in the core.

Calgary Economic Development (CED) board chair Joe Lougheed told council that it is critical to make investments that build on Calgary’s strengths, support a diversified economy and attract talent to Calgary.

“The momentum we’ve seen is very encouraging. A new Calgary is rising and the world is taking notice,” said Lougheed.

CED president and CEO Brad Parry said their priorities for the next four years are about building a vibrant city with a resilient economy, and positioning Calgary to attract talent and global attention.

Tourism Calgary CEO Cindy Ady said the city’s convention capacity will double in 2024, which is behind a request for an additional investment of $2 million per year in their meeting and convention bid fund.

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“The opening of the BMO Centre in 2024 represents a generational opportunity to grow the visitor economy of Calgary,” said Ady.

She said the investment will fetch a $70-million return through the meetings and conventions brought to the city.

“But the benefits wouldn’t end there,” said Ady, adding that it would also support the downtown strategy, bring events to the city during the winter and encourage other economic growth.

The steel beam signed by participants, contributors, and members involved in the BMO Expansion project is lifted into place to mark the completion of the BMO Centre expansion’s steel structure on Thursday, November 3, 2022.
The steel beam signed by participants, contributors, and members involved in the BMO Expansion project is lifted into place to mark the completion of the BMO Centre expansion’s steel structure on Thursday, November 3, 2022.Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Tourism Calgary also asked council for $1 million per year toward a collaborative effort with CED and the City of Calgary to launch a new “story and brand” for Calgary.

Among the other civic partners to pitch budget requests to city council on Monday was Calgary Public Library CEO Sarah Meilleur. She said there are 745,000 active library members in the city — a historic high in the library’s 110 years.

“Our growth is always tied to community need,” she said. “Our community needs the library now more than ever.”

She said the proposed budget will support their plan to build new libraries by 2026, expand learning opportunities and support inner-city facilities.

Coun. Terry Wong asked about the condition and age of the library in his home community in Ward 7, Louise Riley Library.

Meilleur said it’s the oldest of the 21 facilities operated by the Calgary Public Library, at 65 years old. There is a plan to reinvest in inner-city infrastructure, which would include that library, she explained.

Council will continue discussing the four-year budget plan on Tuesday when the meeting will open its floor to the public for feedback.

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