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Calgary business tax plan approved by city council

Calgary city councillors garnered nearly-unanimous support for a $131 million package to aid Calgary small businesses, after being sidetracked by a series of proposed amendments by Coun. Jeromy Farkas.

Councillors debated the merits of a notice of motion put forward by 10 members that would include an immediate $70.9 million in relief and $60 million in budget savings for a total, one-time $130.9 million in Calgary small business tax relief.

The tax shift was the result of plummeting property values in the downtown core, leaving the city with a gaping $250 million hole in its bottom line. That gap has been filled by transferring that tax amount to Calgary small businesses.

RELATED: Calgary business tax – Long term for complex city problem

Several Calgary business owners said their piece in council Monday, sharing stories of survival and hardship since the city’s downtown tax shift has sapped $250 million from city coffers. They offered solutions and suggestions – everything from shifting the burden to residential ratepayers to massive budget cuts.

Business owner Bob Pelzer said he’s tired of giving to the city what he doesn’t have.

“We don’t need a handout. We need responsible municipal government,” Pelzer told councillors.

That was a sentiment echoed by many business owners, with the common theme of ‘not a revenue problem, but a spending problem,’ being the predominant one.

Councillors debate Calgary business tax plan

Councillors put forth a number of questions on the potential effect on cuts. They asked about transfer of services like affordable housing, low income transit and mental health to the province. They inquired about the $100 million cash for the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund. They also talked about divesting themselves of City of Calgary land. Queries were made about how much could be saved with the elimination of the carbon tax.

City councillors also emphasized the need for structural changes to the taxation structure.

“We’re going to have to make some tough choices,” said Coun. Ward Sutherland.

All councillors were agreed that cuts to the budget were necessary. Coun. Druh Farrell said citizens would need to be made well aware of upcoming cuts.

“We’ll have to communicate why there’s a reduction in services,” she said.

The Farkas amendments

Coun. Jeromy Farkas proposed a series of amendments that sucked up a vast amount of the time, though none had to do with the debate on the tax shift. They were directed at potential cuts that may be required, but were not on the motion at hand.

Farkas put forward seven amendments, with only one being accepted. That was a cut to council expenses. Others he put forth were:

  • Pension freeze/cut (were already put forward in different council direction)
  • Pay cuts for staff (pushed off as separate Notice of Motion)
  • $50 million cut to Opportunity Calgary Fund
  • Request of a letter sent to province about modernizing labour relations for municipalities (few understood what was meant with this.)
  • Request for city employees to be asked via survey about potential cost-saving ideas (resource intensive, administration said)
  • Doubling of cuts from $60 million to $120 million

While councillors agreed with some of Coun. Farkas’ ideas, they wanted him to come back with well-researched and fuller notices of motion to get these items presented and debated.

Mayor Nenshi, on the clock because of a pending swearing in of the new Calgary police chief, was worried that the city was spending cash that hadn’t yet been identified though the cuts (ie: the cuts hadn’t been made). Administration came back with a solution to shoulder the amount in the interim.