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Monday, December 4, 2023

Calgarians speak out on budget adjustments as deliberations begin at city hall – Calgary

Calgarians made their way to city hall Monday to share their thoughts on the city’s proposed adjustments to the four-year budget, which includes a list of spending proposals and a nearly eight per cent tax increase.

Council heard from around 40 speakers throughout the day on a variety of aspects within the budget including transit improvements, affordability, housing affordability and transportation infrastructure, while just some raised concerns with the potential impact to property tax bills.

This year’s adjustments include recommendations from administration that would add 28 spending proposals to the budget, and a one per cent shift of the tax burden from businesses to residential properties.

If all of the recommendations are approved, it would mean a 7.8 per cent increase to residential property taxes next year, or an additional $16 per month for the median-priced home valued at $610,000.

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Click to play video: 'Previewing Calgary city council’s budget talks'

Previewing Calgary city council’s budget talks

Calgary’s mayor said the public hearing echoed what she has heard from Calgarians over her time in the role.

“We’re hearing about investment in public safety, investment in transit. We’re hearing about investment in affordable housing and people are also talking about their concerns about affordability generally in this city,” Jyoti Gondek told reporters. “I would say no surprises, just consistency.”

Arthur Gallant, a resident of Ward 8, was among the speakers making a pitch for city council to address affordability during the public hearing on Monday.

Gallant said although he moved to Calgary for its low cost of living, his bills have since risen dramatically, despite earning $10 more per hour than Alberta’s minimum wage. He asked city council to consider allowing struggling renters access to low-income transit and recreation passes to help offset some of the belt tightening.

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“I’m asking all of you to collectively make decisions that are right, that are humane and that might not even be politically popular with your own constituents… but that will allow you to look at people like me directly in the eyes with the confidence that you did all you could possibly do,” Gallant told council.

Click to play video: 'Calgary advocacy group make their voices heard ahead of budget adjustment debate'

Calgary advocacy group make their voices heard ahead of budget adjustment debate

Ward 6 resident Jim Williams was among some speakers who urged council to refrain from raising property taxes. He argued that the city is “flush with cash” after looking at several public audits of the city’s reserve funds.

“We’re again talking about the need for more taxes. I suggest it’s absurd,” he told council. “You’ve heard from a number of speakers today telling you the difficulties that they are having. We see record numbers of people going to the food bank and yet administration is calling for even more tax dollars.”

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Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said she plans to bring forward amendments to restrain the impact on Calgarians’ property tax bills, after concerns with the potential increase as proposed.

“Some members of council see the 7.8 (per cent) as a fine number,” she told reporters. “I’m not comfortable with 7.8. I’ve been very vocal about that and hopefully my amendment will bring some clarity on what I’m proposing.”

But with proposed investments for transit service, public safety, and affordable housing, Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner argued the spending proposals reflect what Calgarians have been calling for from its municipal government.

She pointed to several proposed affordability measures including a rebate program for high energy bills, freezing transit fares and making transit free for kids under 12.

“This is a budget that shows the true cost of what Calgarians are asking us for,” Penner told reporters. “We’re asking everyone to share in that to make life more livable and affordable for everyone.”

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City council also heard from the business community Monday, as city administration recommends shifting the tax burden from businesses to residential properties by one per cent each year for the next three years.

Currently, residential properties cover 52 per cent of property taxes in Calgary, with businesses paying the remaining 48 per cent.

However, city officials note that for every dollar of assessed value, a non-residential property owner pays 4.26 times more municipal property tax than a residential property owner — a number set to rise to 4.59 if the tax share remains status quo.

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce pitched for council go even further and make the shift two per cent this year instead.

“When businesses are seeing a $1,000 per month property tax increase over the last five years, that’s something we have to pay attention to,” Chamber president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said.

City council will return on Tuesday to ask questions of each city department. Councillors will begin debate and bringing forward their own amendments following that session.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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