Sarah Woodgate

Avenue Calgary’s 2014 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Erin Brooke Burns

Age: 39

Job title: Manager, City of Calgary’s Action Plan

Why she’s a 2014 Top 40:

Sarah Woodgate is leading the process to establish the City’s four-year, $20-billion budget in a way that accommodates Calgary’s substantial growth while keeping tax rates low.

Over the next four years, the city of Calgary is projected to grow by 120,000 people, or the equivalent of the city of Kelowna. Accommodating growth while maintaining quality public services and keeping tax rates affordable is a complex problem.

As the manager of the City of Calgary’s Action Plan, Sarah Woodgate leads the City’s business plan and budget process for 2015 to 2018. The Action Plan includes both the process of creating the four-year $20-billion budget, the budget that results and monitoring its effectiveness. 

“Everybody is interested in building a great city,” Woodgate says. “I’m trying to figure out what’s important and what would be nice to have and create a conversation to filter those ideas through. It’s a big puzzle.”

Woodgate, an urban planner, has worked at the City since 2001, primarily in affordable housing and land development. In September 2013, she was seconded from her role as manager of business operations for City land development, affordable housing and real estate sales to lead the Action Plan for 18 months. The notoriously intense role – she sometimes works 70-hour weeks – wraps up in March 2015.

Woodgate’s job involves everything from creating the information gathering and approval process for the Action Plan, to working directly with council, senior City staff and the City’s 32 business units and acting as a public spokesperson. In early 2015, Woodgate will update the budget based on council’s November deliberations and also create a citizen-friendly document for Calgarians to read on the City’s website.

“From police to animal bylaw, every single City service you can think of is incorporated into the Action Plan,” she says. 

Woodgate has already increased efficiency and saved taxpayer dollars. She brought the Action Plan’s citizen-engagement process in-house and invited people from different demographics, including vulnerable Calgarians, to offer input. This provided more detailed information on what Calgarians want and need from council while cutting the budget for citizen engagement in half, from $1.2 million in the last four-year budget cycle to $550,000. 

Going forward, Woodgate focuses on the impact and outcome of the Action Plan. Instead of departments working individually, Woodgate identified 44 shared strategic actions, such as economic development, that reflect council priorities and can be measured across the organization. She also introduced a benchmarking process. The plan proposes performance measures that will monitor progress over the four years.

In addition to her public service, Woodgate has been the volunteer director on the board of directors of The Alex community health centre since 2006. 

“Local government touches people every single day,” Woodgate says. “That’s what’s so cool about this role; I feel I can actively serve all Calgarians.” -Meredith Bailey

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