By: Stephanie Kusie
Across Calgary, many families are feeling the pinch due to the current economic slowdown.
Similarly, many businesses have had to put off expansion plans, delay non-essential spending and cancel perks for employees.
That’s why Common Sense Calgary called on City Hall to tighten its belt and reduce its planned property tax increase down to 1.3%; Statistics Canada’s inflation rate for our city. Many readers will know that council has been passing tax increases much higher as of late.
Since calling on council to tighten its belt a couple weeks ago, some have asked me “how could city hall reduce expenditures?” There are plenty of ways to achieve significant savings at city hall. Here are a few ideas:
First, the city’s workforce could do with a trim. If you open the City of Calgary’s 2006 and 2014 Annual Reports (available online), you’ll find the number of people living in Calgary grew by 32% between 2002 and 2014. This number probably won’t surprise you. Most of us can probably name a colleague, friend or neighbour who has migrated to our great city from elsewhere.
However, what is surprising in those annual reports is the large increase in people employed by the City; a 42% jump. In 2002, there were 11,215 people employed by our city government. By 2014 that number had ballooned to 15,928.
If Calgary’s population only grew by 32%, why did the City of Calgary’s bureaucracy grow by 42%?
The answer likely lies in the fact that revenues have been pouring into city hall.
From 2006 to 2014 alone, the city saw a 73% increase in tax revenues. When money is rolling in, it’s easy for politicians to rubberstamp the hiring of new staff.
The time has come for city hall to seriously review the size of its workforce. To do this, the city should evaluate the need to rehire staff for vacant positions and consider a hiring freeze for non-emergency staff. The federal government previously enacted the latter and found ways to continue to deliver essential services. Why can’t city hall?
Another option city hall could consider would be to reduce spending on non-essential projects.
Most Calgarians have probably seen the “big blue hoop” light on the 96 Ave. overpass. Unlike most streetlights, this light is in the shape of a giant blue hoop and cost $470,000. Public art is quite subjective so I won’t comment on the design. However, what is clear is that projects like this are “nice to have” items and not “need to have” and should be put on the back burner while Calgary is in a recession.
Another savings option for city hall to consider would be to reduce printing costs. Council recently learned the Calgary Parking Authority paid $20,000 to print out 3,000 copies of its glossy annual report. Going forward, simply posting these types of documents online — like many businesses do — could help city hall save a small bundle.
One thing is for certain, there’s a way to scale back city hall’s planned property tax hikes. Your input will help determine if council has the will to do it.
Stephanie Kusie is Executive Director of Common Sense Calgary.
This oped was originally published in the Calgary Sun on September 25, 2015.