TNT EXCLUSIVE: Jeromy Farkas makes the case for Calgarians

Written By Guest User, Posted on May 2, 2020

As the Councillor to Ward 11, Jeromy Farkas has often drawn the ire of colleagues for the blunt reinforcement of his fiscal prudence. Outright condemnation of poorly-timed tax hikes and pleas for greater accountability has left him susceptible to those claiming he is not a team player. 

However, it would appear that that claim is not an accurate reflection of the polls. Here, the ‘point one finger three point back’ analogy applies.

In a Calgary Herald article, he was accused by council of “[compromising] the integrity and the reputation” of city hall for simply demanding transparency at closed-door (on camera) meetings. He attributed its propensity “to instill fear, intimidate and shut down new ideas” as a cause for concern.

On page nine of a Manning Foundation report, council spent 23.7 per cent of its time in secret (on camera) between 2013-2017, an increase from 19 per cent in the previous term. That accounts for 748 meetings for an average of 21 minutes. 

Like metropolitan examples include Toronto and Ottawa, who met 18 times and once in secrecy between 2014-2016, respectively.

On page 19 of the same report, 23.66 per cent of the closed-door meetings were spent on issues about pay, personnel and various appointments. 19.92 per cent of the meetings had discussions on unknown topics.

In a more recent article, Farkas was accused of instigating ‘drama’ over a motion in which he opposed transition allowances for city councillors. As of 2021, they totalled $17,435 to $113,325 for each councillor, not seeking re-election. 

Farkas was the only one to decline his allowance, dating back to December 2019, which earned him considerable praise amongst critics.

In 2019, CBC reported on complaints issued against Farkas, including his post of a vote that never happened, that came amidst confusion in determining council’s annual pay adjustment. 

While council voted in favour of a wage freeze for 2019, it is worth noting that city councillors took a 0.08 per cent pay cut in 2018 from 2017. That amounts to $90.73 less for councillors and $160.60 less for the mayor, who made $113,325.63, plus benefits and expenses, and $200,586.40, respectively, in 2019.

Mayor Nenshi previously stated that pay should be “tied to the health of the economy” and “shouldn’t be set by politicians.”

While Farkas has never shied from the spotlight, his principled stances demonstrate a thorough rejection of likening city council to that of a large top-down corporation.

Suffice to say, he has been a staunch defender of the little guy, and it’s time we give him the credit he’s owed.

A TNT Exclusive with Councillor Farkas

The National Telegraph interviewed Farkas earlier this week on the state of Calgary’s fiscal affairs, and how COVID-19 has impacted residences and small businesses. 

It is worth noting that he took this time to urge togetherness amongst his colleagues and to stand alongside taxpayers during a period characterized by immense uncertainty and distrust.

TNT: Amongst the few city councillors to have voted consistently against tax increases, the decision to carry a 7.5 per cent hike for residential properties held. With the mayor stating this was necessary to prevent most businesses from facing higher bills, was this the appropriate action for the City to take? 

I firmly believe that imposing a tax hike on Calgarians at this time is a critical failure on the City’s part. This unprecedented pandemic has left Calgarians in a financial situation that has quickly gone from bad to worse.

While I appreciate the deferral programs in place for property taxes and utilities, I maintain that Calgarians need real help – not merely a mechanism to postpone paying bills. 

With Premier Kenney predicting that unemployment rates will skyrocket to at least 25% this year and already one-third of downtown office spaces vacant, with more to come, this paints a very clear picture that the taxpayers in this city will not be able to hold on if this council keeps raising the rates. 

I have advocated for the Council to use rainy day savings from such slush funds as the Opportunity for Calgary Investment Fund, public art and other non-essential spending accounts. 

Every week Calgarians are contacting me with pleas to stop tax hikes and to freeze taxes in the face of this pandemic. We must listen, and we must act.

TNT: With City Council green lighting the deferral of property tax payments, the City is losing $15 million a week (because of COVID-19), which, theoretically, could be as much as $877 million by September 30th. Having voted in favour of a “true tax relief” that was eventually voted down, what are the challenges in getting fellow councillors on board with such initiatives? 

Each elected official has their own constituents to answer to. While I may not always agree with my colleagues, I do respect all of them, and I appreciate that we are all doing the best we can to serve the residents of this city. 

I value the opportunity for fair debate, and I am committed to bringing forward issues on behalf of my constituents, namely tax relief. No matter the situation, I will continue to push for meaningful changes, and I can only hope that my arguments will persuade my colleagues’ support. 

TNT: What is your plan to alleviate the concerns of taxpayers during COVID-19, given your proposed tax relief failed to pass? Moving forward into the remainder of your tenure, what is the message you seek to deliver? 

The overwhelming consensus from Calgarians is that City Hall must cut frivolous spending. It is time to cut non-essential services and spending and put a hard stop on pet projects and questionable slush funds. 

The public sector can no longer be immune to the hardships that the private sector continues to endure. I will keep on advocating that the City of Calgary looks to efficiencies found in the private sector and run more like a business or household. 

TNT: Despite the financial struggles of tens of thousands of Calgarians, many are stepping up to provide for those in need, including those self-isolating and seniors. Does this encapsulate the goodwill and philanthropy of our great city? 

I maintain that Calgarians are among the most genuine, generous and hardest working in the country. The integrity and strength shone through ‘Hell or High Water’ when the City banded together to rebuild after the 2013 flood.

While the financial landscape is much different today than at that time – with an emptying out of the downtown core and a beleaguered private sector – that spirit is still alive and well.

I am overwhelmed by the random acts of kindness we are witnessing during this pandemic – be it through the organization of Community Associations to coordinate volunteers to shop for seniors and the most vulnerable, to hand-drawn hearts on windows by kids, to the generous monetary and supply donations from our corporate citizens. This is the stuff that inspires me to work hard as a councillor each day. 

TNT: With seniors relying on CPP and OAS just to get by, this puts them below the poverty line. Has COVID-19 worsened their financial situation? What is City Council doing to alleviate their concerns specifically? 

The City has various deferrals set up for taxpayers, including property tax deferment until Sept. 30 and utility payment deferrals, and there is a tax deferral program through the province specifically for seniors that is more comprehensive. These deferments are not accurate measures of assistance when ratepayers are getting hit with a 7.55% property tax increase. 

For seniors specifically, stress and mental health become ever more important, especially to these individuals who are most at risk and forced to isolate themselves from friends and family. Furthermore, their incomes, at best indexed to inflation, cannot keep pace with fees and tax increases.

I would encourage looking to the Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society, as well as other established community partners and non-profits for immediate assistance for food insecurity or essential transportation. 

TNT: As the only councillor to decline their transition allowance in December, does this expenditure, in light of the current financial crisis, advocate your point on its futility? 

I have personally declined both the transition allowance and golden pension afforded to me as a councillor and will continue to advocate for my colleagues to follow suit. 

I do believe this pandemic has catapulted our financial situation from bad to worse, shedding further light on the growing disparity between the public and private sectors. 

Ending outdated entitlements is essential now more than ever. This includes both the transition allowance for Councillors and the retirement bonus for city staff, as well as taking a hard look at the costly and antiquated defined benefits packages. 

As a reminder, the transition allowance is paid to each outgoing councillor regardless if they retire, fail to get re-elected or move on to another level of office. This averages nearly $50,000 per councillor for outgoing elected officials in 2021, with a payout of two weeks salary pay for every year served. 

The retirement bonus is paid out to most retiring city staff, averaging over $10,000 per retiree, as primarily a handshake in addition to pensions. You may remember this fiasco in the fall of 2019 when the administration reported that these payouts, not penned in contracts, have been costing millions per year since 1964. 

Each day I receive an influx of emails and phone calls calling on me, as their elected representative, to push for real savings. While I take no joy in potential job losses for anyone at the City, if efficiencies must be achieved through staffing, the City should face strategic adjustments like the private sector. 

TNT: Since April 2nd, Jeromy committed to weekly Facebook Live events, every Thursday, to hear the concerns of constituents. What are the general sentiments being expressed during these events? 

These weekly Facebook LIVE events have proven to be very beneficial. While technology is never perfect and is a challenging adaptation for many, I am grateful for a platform that allows me weekly check-ins with constituents to hold me accountable and answer their questions. 

Many are concerned about the unpredictability of the pandemic and the uncertainty this has cast on the future, as well as balancing protecting health and safety for all with a plan to revitalize the economy and how we are going to get Calgarians back to work.

As we navigate our way through this new normal, with the anticipation of some measures of physical distancing to be in place for months to come, it will take ingenuity and innovation to get through this. 

The LIVE chats generate questions around waste and recycling, links to resources and ask about how the City can run leaner to reduce the burden on taxpayers. They have also given me the opportunity to update Calgarians on the status of many of the reports and decisions that were set to come to Council, such as the Guidebook for Great Communities and Local Area Plans, which have now been postponed, and how they can ensure their voices are heard in the process.

TNT: Final Question: Do you have anything else you’d like to relay to Calgarians? 

We’re all in this together. Calgarians have shown through Hell and High Water that we have what it takes to get it done. We can, and will, build back better than we were before. 

Guest User

Comments are closed.