Is This Really Where To Cut?
For more than a year, Save Calgary has been calling on City Council and Administration to cut spending.
With Calgary's small businesses facing a full-blown property tax crisis, and the need for spending cuts now blindingly obvious, City Hall finally took its first trembling steps on the path to fiscal responsibility.
However, in true City Hall fashion, they've even managed to bungle these small spending cuts.
As Save Calgary and others have pointed out, there have been some questionable spending decisions at the City of Calgary - the truly awful public art program, the "Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund" which paid out millions of tax dollars to a friend and political supporter of Mayor Nenshi, the "Walking and Cycling Coordinators" that the City was trying to hire until public outcry forced bureaucrats to pull the postings, and the millions spent on a failed Olympics bid that should never have been considered in the first place to name a few.
So, where was the first place that City bosses decided to cut when finally forced to do so?
Calgary's police and fire departments.
That's right, instead of reducing salaries of the entrenched City bureaucracy or eliminating some of the political pet projects favoured by our spending-addicted City Councillors, the Administration decided that the best way to target spending cuts was to go after Calgary's emergency services - because letting criminals roam freely or our houses burn down isn't nearly as important as erecting terrible art projects.
As Rick Bell points out in his column, it's an age-old tactic used by bureaucrats to erode public support for spending cuts: go after popular or vital services first to stoke outrage and then force the politicians to backtrack on their decision to reduce spending.
It is a predictable and sad turn of events - and one that was completely predictable given City Hall's inability to live within its means.
And speaking of living within its means - let's talk about the Green Line.
For those of you following the Green Line saga, the original project called for a new LRT line to be built that would run from the deep South of the city to the far North, at a total cost of $5 billion.
After this plan was announced, it became obvious that there was no way the City could deliver such a project for this (vast) amount of money, and cut the line down to less than half its original size, for the exact same budget of $5 billion.
However, even with this scaled down line, there are still questions about Calgary's ability to complete this project both on-time and on-budget.
Four prominent Calgary businessmen said as much to City Council's Transportation Committee earlier this week, pointing out that the project had massive risk, and could end up costing more than $7 billion.
That's a completely unacceptable risk for a city still reeling from an economic downtown.
These four businessmen called on City Hall to pause the project for a period of one year, using that time to conduct a full review and risk analysis to ensure that this project wouldn't go off the rails.
To some City Councillors, asking for this pause was akin to full-blown heresy. They railed against even the possibility of a delay, and accused those expressing concerns about the project of engaging in fear-mongering.
For the rest of us, figuring out if a project is going to sink the city into billions of new debt is worth asking before the project gets fully underway.
While Save Calgary would like to believe that City Hall is capable of executing a project of this size and complexity successfully even under trying circumstances, experience has taught us to be cautious.
And for those City Councillors who want to forge ahead regardless of the risks, perhaps they'd be willing to put their own political futures on the line, and commit to resigning if the project goes over budget.
PS. Unlike the City, Save Calgary always delivers its coverage of municipal issues on-time and on-budget - thanks in large part to the support of concerned citizens like you. If you support our mandate of holding City Hall to account, then please make a donation to us online today!