Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020

Calgary Fire Department faces $9M budget cut: union boss

The Calgary Firefighters Association (CFA) says it believes the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) will be hit with a $9-million budget cut as city council looks to find $60 million in savings.

The union is speaking out as city council tries to ease the burden for businesses facing rising property taxes.

Mike Henson, president of the CFA, told Global News that the expected $9-million cut will have to come from its 2019 operating budget, and that it will directly affect Calgarians.

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“I have not been told what trucks or what fire halls will be shut down,” Henson said. “But I can’t help but think that the $9 million cuts will affect front-line services to the citizens.”

On the City of Calgary’s property tax calculator, CFD accounts for 7.8 per cent of the city’s annual budget. A $9-million cut would be 15 per cent of the $60 million that council is looking for.

Henson said the CFD has already had $20 million axed from its budget over the last four years.

“I believe [Fire Chief Steve Dongworth] has cut all the support services and background cuts that are possible,” Henson said.

Forty new CFD recruits were also set to join the department as full-time firefighters, but according to Henson, those recruits won’t be joining any longer.

“Those 40 new recruits have been called and told they have been [their joining has been] deferred indefinitely,” said Henson. “They are not going to be hired.”

Henson added that CFD is already understaffed and that these cuts will put more pressure on existing resources.

“[The recruits] would have been brought in to replace retirements but… we’re not bringing that class on July 15, so we’re going to be further understaffed.”

According to the City of Calgary database, CFD archives its self-imposed seven-minute response time on less than 85 per cent of calls.

Henson said budget restraints will mean fire crews may take longer to respond.

“If you affect the firefighters on those trucks or the trucks themselves, that’s only going to be a lesser number that we’re going to meet that response time,” he said.

Ward 9 Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said he hasn’t been told the exact number that CFD will be asked to cut but that any reduction is not good for Calgarians.

“We knew there would be impact to front-line services,” Carra said. “Being unable to solve the tax shift… there’s a realization we have to drive down costs this year.”

Carra said city administration won’t reveal the details of the budget cut package until it’s brought to council on July 24.

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