One-time cash will fund a suite of programs and projects over the next four years, while keeping the impact to Calgary’s property tax limited.
After five days of deliberations, Calgary city councillors passed a four-year budget that starts with a residential property tax increase of 5.2 per cent. That will mean roughly $10 per month for the typical single-family homeowner with a property value of $550,000.
A decision on the portion of tax burden distributed between residential and non-residential properties was kicked to early next year.
Big winners with the funding package that was tacked on to the main budget were transit riders, who will see fares frozen in 2023 at 2022 levels, and fares will be eliminated for kids 12 and under for 2023. Calgary 5A network users, including cyclists, will also benefit, as $40 million will be drawn from two different reserves to bolster the system. The downtown work will also see a boost with $40 million in reserves being used to fund the ongoing downtown conversions and work on post-secondary migration to the core.
Many of Calgary’s civic partners will also see a windfall in this budget with many seeing a one-time boost spread over four years.
The Calgary Fire Department will get an additional $10 million, and $5 million will go towards additional bus shelters and benches.
Coun. Evan Spencer, who tabled the amendment package, said they knew this would be a tough budget. Along with that, he said they heard from the community this week that the initial proposed budget wasn’t creating “conditions for success” around long-term resiliency.
He also said that they heard from Calgarians that their pocketbooks were already under considerable strain.
“This pathway further strikes the balance that we are all attempting to keep but protecting affordability and advancing meaningful work important to a thriving future,” Spencer said.
“Colleagues, I urge you, I urge you to see the balance that this amendment strikes.”
The budget in general, also saw increases to the police and fire budgets.
Responding to public concerns
Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot, who voted against the funding package, said that some of the items drifted into other areas that weren’t city jurisdiction. Chabot was particularly irked by the $19 million in funding for the mental health and addictions strategy.
“We’re moving out of our lane here. This is not our responsibility,” Chabot said.
“While I appreciate what council has done in the past by putting money into mental health and addictions treatment, which is health care, it is not our core responsibility and I will be voting against this and encouraging council to vote against it as well.”
Coun. Spencer said that the additional funding was a reflection of they’d heard through the year, and in the public hearings, from Calgarians. He said they’ve been dealing with some extreme circumstances and were hoping to respond.
“The public hearing process absolutely solidified a lot of where we were already starting to head,” Spencer said.
“But ultimately, it came from, I mean, this goes all the way back to the campaigns things that we’ve heard, we were drawing on what Calgarians have been telling us over the last year.”
Coun. Sonya Sharp said she was happy to see that they could provide much-needed cash to certain groups without having an impact on the property tax.
“This to me, the 140 (million) isn’t considered spending, it’s investing in great initiatives and giving that little boost to some of the things in the budget that didn’t get what they needed,” Sharp said.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the one-time money is going to keep the city safe, on the move and helping organizations that are helping Calgarians.
“The funding package that was passed as one of our amendments today is indicative of the fact that council is listening to Calgarians,” she said.
Mayor Gondek said that council gave administration the task of coming back with a budget that stayed within an envelope that they’d set. That left many projects and organizations without the funding they needed to move forward.
“It was a very tight budget, and we can see that there are elements missing that are critically needed in order to support Calgarians,” the mayor said.
“We found a way to add them in for 2023. We will continue to find a way to do better for the years after that.”