Calgary firefighters move hoses at a large fire which destroyed one home and damaged others in the 300 block of Douglas Glen Close S.E. early Sunday, February 17, 2019.
Gavin Young / Postmedia
A budget cut of $9 million proposed for the city’s fire department could compromise firefighters and the public, said the head of the union representing those workers.City police are also facing the prospect of budget cuts as part of an effort to shave $60 million from city spending.A preliminary spending reduction target for the fire department to help the city find savings to make up for huge revenue losses from downtown property taxes has already led to a July firefighter graduating class to be deferred, said Mike Henson, president of the Calgary Firefighters Association.“We’re understaffed and under-deployed right now so we’re further behind,” he said, adding that hiring gap will be especially felt in a few years when those lost recruits would have risen to be drivers.“I understand the department’s going to try to retire enough people to have enough money but we could have a gap of a few years.”The union and department, he said, “are striving to keep 29 recruits we just graduated.”Budget cutting has already axed $20 million from the department’s budget over the past four years, which has been largely aimed at internal operations, said Henson.“The back of the house is as lean as it can get so this will affect frontline services,” he said.“If we start taking trucks out of service it affects the citizens’ and firefighters’ safety.”It could also mean firefighters won’t be able to meet an already slightly higher-than-industry standard response time of seven minutes that’s now met 84 per cent of the time, said Henson.If firefighters are concerned about service funding levels, they can’t at the same time ignore their wage demands and salaries that haven’t been frozen like those in other departments, said Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland.Collective bargaining efforts between the city and firefighters is currently in binding arbitration with the union seeking a 5.5 wage increase over two years with the city trying to hold the line at zero increase.“Wages are the biggest place to cut but I’m not sure if doing it on the backs of employees in any department is the best way,” said Henson.
Calgary Chief Constable Mark Neufeld during his first Calgary Police Commission public meeting in Calgary on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
How much the budget might affect the Calgary Police Service isn’t yet clear, but Calgary Police Commission chair Brian Thiessen said the city has asked police to find ways to cut their budget. Thiessen said the commission has met with the service and asked police to go through their budget and look for savings.“From the commission’s point of view in our oversight role, we want to make sure that the service meets the budget request within the parameters that we do not want to see any decrease in service and we will not accept any loss in membership,” he said following a police commission meeting Tuesday.Chief Mark Neufeld said the service is looking at options like lengthening the amount of time before replacing equipment or potentially delaying hires for positions that are vacant.“So things that wouldn’t translate to direct impacts on the street,” he said.Neufeld added he is worried about where the cuts will come from, but that the service is still in the process of running various different scenarios to see what those spending reductions might look like.Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he doesn’t know the numbers being floated but added council “would vote for the cuts package regardless of what it is — let’s see what happens.”And he said meaningful spending reductions would have to target the largest budgets.“If you’re going to make these kinds of cuts you’ve got to fish where the fish are and the very, very big departments are police, fire and transportation,” said Nenshi.— With files from Yolande Cole and Meghan Potkins