After a week of debate, Calgary city councillors passed a budget that includes an effective near-zero tax increase and adds one-time funds for priority areas.
However, couple with the approval of the city’s tax shift plan, moving the residential share from 49 to 52 per cent, Calgary taxpayers will actually see a property tax increase of 7.51 per cent. That means an increase to the typical homeowner of roughly $150 annually. (See how it would affect different businesses here.)
After the original budget motion from Coun. Ward Sutherland, which proposed a property tax freeze, Couns. Jyoti Gondek and Diane Colley-Urquhart put forth a plan that would be the budget equivalent of a 1.5 per cent increase, with low income transit funding and transit hours tacked on.
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Their plan to cover the tax increase and the added measures was to use a one-time $24 million from the city’s corporate savings, essentially bringing the tax rate back to near zero.
The only tax-supported item that remained on the budget was the Calgary police’s $13 million shortfall after the province change the allocation of provincial fine revenue. That pegs the budgeted property tax rate at .7 per cent and will be separated out on Calgarian’s tax bills as “provincial flow through” – indicating it was the result of provincial budget decisions.
The motion also asked for council to come up with more savings through a third-party service review that’s underway.
Pushing the budget problem down the road
The budget passed 8-7. With the $24 million being put covered in one-time cash, and not made up through tax base, many city councillors believed the budget problem was just being punted down the road. That money will have to be made up in the next budget, if they want the one-time service additions to continue.
Not to mention another upcoming provincial budget, said Coun. George Chahal.
“I’m not sure if it’s going to be any better – it might even be worse – than the last one,” said Chahal.
“I don’t know if we’re well prepared to weather that storm as it potentially comes and hits us.”
He said the tough decisions should have been made in this budget.
“We can’t burden others moving forward. We could have dealt with it today because it limits our flexibility moving forward,” Chahal said.
But, Coun. Gondek said she think this budget provides direction for city administration to come back with a budget plan that they’ve been after.
“I have faith, the decision we make today, in favour of this budget, actually gives direction to administration to come back and give us the things we’ve been asking for, but haven’t clarified,” Gondek said.
Budget was supposed to be tough, Sutherland said
Coun. Ward Sutherland, who tabled the original motion for a zero per cent increase, said everyone had been talking about how difficult this budget was going to be.
“It was easy,” Sutherland said.
“Because we didn’t take responsibility. We pushed it aside again, and like I mention every single year, we get tough on something and then we find magical money to make sure we go back and reinstate it again.
“There is no tough decision today. Pretty easy.”
Additional budget notes
A motion arising out of the budget discussion came from Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who wanted to pull the recently approved $200,000 from public engagement on the change in residential speed limits, and have it put towards the city’s Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) Team. That was approved.
Earlier in the week, council also came up with funding to keep the Beltline and Inglewood Aquatic facilities open for two years, while a long-term plan was developed.
With this budget, 138 city jobs will be lost.