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Calgary approves budget with overall tax rate decrease of 1.77 per cent

Calgary businesses will once again get city-prescribed relief – at a cost – but the reduced budget sailed through city council Thursday.

The vote wrapped up four days of budget debate. It saw the passage of the Calgary police budget (as a part of the overall budget), with some amendments, and the maintenance of the overall tax decrease for residential properties.

“We need to pass this budget,” said Coun. Evan Woolley, as he opened debate.

“We need to keep the streetlights on, the buses running, the snow clearing blowing, the police policing, the firefighters fighting fires, and so much more.”

Compared to past budgets, this one had relatively few amendments. City administration promised $90 million in budget reductions to help the city get to a tax decrease. Overall, between residential and non-residential, City of Calgary CFO Carla Male estimated it to be a 1.77 per cent tax rate decrease.

While this means a relatively modest tax break for Calgary homeowners, some city businesses will still face substantial property tax hikes.

Not all taxpayers will see a decrease on their tax bill. The reduction applies to the typical Calgary single family homeowner. Those whose properties increased or decreased in value beyond the median amount will see a relative increase or decrease in their tax bill.

Help for Calgary businesses

Calgary will cap property tax increases on busines to 10 per cent. Some business tax categories were slated to see increases of between seven and 25 per cent.

They’ll do this through another Phased Tax Program.

This will cost the city $21 million. It will come from previously years’ Phased Tax Program savings and the originally approved $24 million property tax rebate.

“This is obviously not the long-term solution that Calgarians deserve but it will allow us to live to fight another day,” said Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who introduced the motion.  

“The message that we need to send now more than ever, is certainty.”

Most councillors begrudgingly agreed that something needed to be done to help Calgary business, but this wasn’t a long-term solution.

“Every year we say we hate this and every year we approve it,” said Coun. Druh Farrell.

“Each year we don’t like it – and we don’t get any better at it.”

Councillors also generally agreed that the city needs to advocate harder for tax reform so this problem with the tax situation doesn’t keep happening.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek also suggested, once again, that the city needs to stop creating a “wish list” for a budget and then taxing citizens and business to get it.

Amendments passed, failed

City councillors agreed on a handful of other amendments. Most of the amendments won’t have an impact on the property tax base.

One of them, by Coun. Peter Demong related to funding the heritage credits, will be cut from the tax base. Instead, it will be funded, to a lesser degree, through the fiscal sustainability reserve.

Another added $2.5 million from the fiscal reserve to improve the city’s tree canopy.

The budget did have $10 million of the Calgary police budget reduced, cutting a planned 60 positions. A motion arising in the debate from Coun. Jeff Davison allowed the CPS to access cash for hiring if needed.

One measure, by Coun. Gondek suggested pulling $74 million from city reserves to give all Calgary property owners a true zero per cent tax increase – for home and business owners.

“That means no tax increase for any property owner in this year, which is one of the worst years that we’ve seen,” said Gondek.

“This allows us to truly recognize that Calgarians are in rough shape.”

That attempt failed.

Coun. Farkas also tried to wrestle $4 million from the city’s fiscal reserve to repair nearly 1.7 kilometres of sound wall around the city that he said it falling into a dangerous state of disrepair. That were referred to the city’s transportation and transit committee for further discussion.