Calgary City Council Urged to "Do Better"

By: Stephanie Kusie

Dear city hall: So you want to do better?

There has been a lot of talk by politicians as of late about “doing better.”

 

Dear city hall: So you want to do better?

There has been a lot of talk by politicians as of late about “doing better.”

They talk about things like the quality of life in Calgary, citizen satisfaction and making tough choices at city hall to improve the lives of citizens.

It’s great that council reduced its proposed property tax increase from 4.2% to 3.5%; that was a step in the right direction.

However, given Calgary’s current economy, there are plenty of other things we need council to “do better” to help everyday Calgarians get through this difficult time.

Stop Raising Our Taxes: Consecutive tax increases of 4.5% and 3.5% since the 2013 election is unacceptable.

Most people haven’t seen pay increases of 9.0% over the past two years.

I’ve heard from a lot of families that it’s hard to keep up. In fact, many have described pay cuts; especially as of late.

In order to freeze taxes, council should make the effort of going through the budget line-by-line to find savings instead of just approving whatever the administration proposes.

For example, how on earth did council approve $236,000 for artwork at a sewage station?

Council needs to look hard for efficiencies and stop blackmailing the public with “garbage strikes” and fears of “service cuts.”

Plenty of services could be provided more cost effectively by reducing middle management and non-essential spending; just as many businesses have done.

I challenge every Calgarian to contact their councillor and ask: “What line item have you removed?”

Stop Taking Salary Increases: Alberta’s unemployment rate is the highest it’s been in decades yet we haven’t seen a single headline about city hall making significant spending cuts.

In fact, the only headlines you read about are salary increases.

There have been year after year consecutive pay increases for city councillors and our mayor is the highest paid in Canada.

Why is it government employees never feel the pinch — like those who work for businesses in Calgary?

Stop Spending Money We Don’t Have: In 2012, it was reported that the city of Calgary held 42% of the municipal debt in Alberta.

Since then the city has continued to pile on more debt.

Consider the Green Line project is going ahead without all the funding in place.

It seems the city is counting on annual funds from the province, but the province hasn’t guaranteed those funds will always be available.

What if the province says “no?”

Budgeting should be a zero-based game where the fiscal year ends, a line is drawn and the process begins again in the new fiscal year.

Funds should be identified and confirmed before projects are approved and a priority should be to control spending and reduce the debt.

In the corporate world when this does not occur, it’s not called “tough decision-making” — it is called bankruptcy.

In summary, council needs to make the tough decisions and get its spending under control.

Following the above three recommendations would allow council to continue to move in the right direction of “doing better.”

— Stephanie Kusie is executive director of Common Sense Calgary

www.commonsensecalgary.com

This oped was originally published in the Calgary Sun on January 20, 2016.