It’s time for Calgary to critically evaluate City services

By Stephanie Kusie

The City of Calgary is surveying Calgarians to evaluate what is important to them.

It’s good for council to gauge the opinions of citizens but the survey could do with a few tweaks.

 

To begin, part of the reason why council needs to rethink its current direction is due to the fact the city’s four-year “Action Plan” — passed in the fall of 2014 — is already out of date.

Simply put, Calgary wasn’t yet experiencing the current downturn when council decided to approve more grandiose spending plans a little over a year ago.

The first problem with the city’s survey is that section one — “what is important to you?” — doesn’t provide an option for respondents to choose tax reductions or an expenditure review as responses.

These options are touched upon later in the survey, but not as top priorities for the public to choose.

As many Calgary families are feeling the pinch right now, these choices should have been more prominent.

While city hall grapples with figuring out what it should do, part of that process involves determining what they shouldn’t do.

If I were to ask you if you wanted to buy a vacation house, a boat or an RV, I would be remiss if I didn’t also provide you with the option to save the money.

Council’s survey treats expenditure reductions in the same manner: a hidden afterthought.

In addition to asking the public if expenditure reductions are a priority, council should have provided survey respondents with an opportunity to identify — by rank — which city services are most important to them.

Note that in 2014, Common Sense Calgary asked the City of Calgary for a list of its most important services (often called “core services”).

The city responded by telling us to look on its website.

In other words, to the city, all its services were ‘core.’

This is especially problematic during economic downturns — like we’re going through right now — as council seems unable to determine which core services to focus on.

Just as most households would articulate food, shelter and clothing as their most important household expenses, council should be able to indicate a similar list.

Such a list shouldn’t have been too hard to produce, especially as many less crucial city services have been discussed in the media before; such as golf courses or public fitness centres.

Finally, I would note while the city prides itself on public engagement, one has to ask — is it on the things that matter?

City hall didn’t ask you if you wanted your $52 million back in 2013 when the City identified surplus funds.

They also didn’t ask if you wanted your share of the $30 million of surplus funds discovered this past November.

They just kept it and spent it.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a say on the things that directly affect you and your bottom line and not just on the theoretical concepts suggested in the survey?

The Action Plan must be modified.

On this, we agree with city council.

But the engagement must clearly provide the options of tax reduction and service evaluation prominently and properly.

If city council fails to accurately determine what Calgarians really think, it will fail to deliver what Calgarians really want.

— Stephanie Kusie is the Executive Director of Common Sense Calgary

This piece was published in the Calgary Sun on Wednesday, February 24th, 2016.