A group of Calgary city councillors are calling for millions of dollars in rollbacks in the recently approved budget to cut down this year’s property tax increase; an effort that council will debate at a meeting next week.
Councillors Terry Wong, Sonya Sharp, Dan McLean, Andre Chabot, Jennifer Wyness and Sean Chu co-signed the motion, which was presented for the first time at Tuesday’s executive committee meeting.
Committee members unanimously approved a technical review of the motion, which will now be sent to city council’s Jan. 30 meeting for a debate.
The motion directs city administration to find $23 million in savings to offset the cost of a one-per cent shift in the tax share from businesses to residents, and in turn, provide some relief from this year’s property tax bills.
The tax shift, as well as a package of 28 investment items in November’s budget, contributed to an overall property tax increase of 7.8 per cent for Calgary homeowners this year.
“In this time of unaffordability, a 7.8 per cent tax increase, obviously people are very upset about it,” Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean said. “We have to reconsider and see what we can do to find some savings.”
During budget deliberations in November, the city said the tax shift represented two per cent of the property tax increase, or four dollars per month for the average homeowner.
However, it remains unclear how much relief Calgary homeowners could see in their tax bills if the motion is approved next week.
“I think every penny counts,” Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp told reporters following the meeting.
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The motion doesn’t suggest where city administration should find cost savings, but Sharp noted initiatives to improve public safety and housing affordability should remain funded.
“Nothing that’s consequential like public safety or affordable housing,” she said. ” I would say look internally: there are line items that indicate (human resources) and (information technology), those don’t affect constituents or Calgarians.”
During Tuesday’s technical review, city administration noted it did not support the motion but would look for cuts if council approves the idea.
The city’s chief financial officer, Carla Male, said the move would create delays in implementing new initiatives included in the budget and may require “across-the-board” cuts to achieve the goal laid out in the motion.
“We have done those as a city in the past and we know that doing those don’t always result in reductions that are palatable or actually will result in an actual service cut,” Male told the committee.
Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said while the decision on what to cut should be made by city administration, councillors backing the move would push back if any of the reductions involve services they feel are off-limits.
“We laid out what the focus should be for 2024, if administration wants to violate that then our job as governors and our job as council members is to push back and say ‘no those aren’t the areas we’re looking for,” he said.
The motion is already receiving some opposition from city council, despite the unanimous approval at committee, with Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra accusing the six councillors of undermining the budget approved just months earlier.
“I can’t imagine a world where, having deliberated the budget the way we deliberated it and made the tough decisions that we made, that we’re just going to reverse it randomly,” Carra told reporters.
The Ward 9 representative characterized the motion as a “political statement,” and said the supporting councillors will be “able to trumpet their politics” during next week’s debate.
“Everything costs more, but some things you have to pay for and they actually return bigger results to you than the upfront costs,” Carra said. “I believe the service package you get from your municipal government is exactly that kind of value.”
Wong refuted the claim that the motion is political, but rather a response to concerns he’s heard from constituents about the incoming increase in property taxes.
“Our council members have to recognize that we have a fiduciary responsibility to our constituents to follow through with their concerns,” Wong said. “If council members choose not to reconsider the budget, that’s going to be on them. I think it’s a fair conversation and I hope the reconsideration goes through.”
The motion will require at least 10 votes for approval at next week’s council meeting as it is a reconsideration vote of council’s budget vote in November.
If council approves the motion, administration would be required to bring a list of recommended budget cuts for city council to weigh during the Feb. 27 city council meeting.
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