Mayor Dave Bronconnier and the rest of Calgary city council got an earful from upset taxpayers at an open house on Saturday.
The plaza level of the downtown municipal building buzzed with 300 people at times, most of them angry about the prospect of a hefty property tax increase in the next three-year budget.
"Every year since you've been mayor, the taxes have gone up. And it just doesn't make sense," Marvin Heid told Bronconnier at the event organized for the public to ask questions of city council and administration.
"I wish you'd come down on earth and live with the rest of us and then you'd know what taxes are and what we have to pay."
When the mayor tried to say he paid taxes too, Heid said: "Oh yeah, big deal …. You may be a millionaire. I'm a senior citizen and I may lose my house over these stinking taxes that you want to put in and they're wrong."
For most of the morning, Bronconnier was surrounded by people unhappy with the proposed tax hike, as well as spending on big-ticket items, including two pedestrian bridges over the Bow River at a total cost of $25 million.
Earlier this month, city staff proposed a $7.9-billion operating budget for 2009-2011, which would result in three years of property tax hikes — 9.6 per cent in the first year, 6.8 per cent the second, and 6.9 per cent in the third — to cover the extra spending.
Eight out of 15 alderman vowed Thursday to defeat that proposal. Facing a potential tax revolt, Bronconnier and finance committee chairman Ald. Gord Lowe released a revised budget late that afternoon, shaving almost four percentage points off the original plan.
But many people don't believe that's good enough, preferring an increase closer to the annual rate of inflation, which is about five per cent.
At the open house, a steady line of people signed a petition organized by Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart, supporting a one-year budget with a tax jump close to the rate of inflation.
Her staff estimated they would collect thousands of signatures by the end of the open house on Saturday afternoon.
Small clusters of people formed around each alderman on the plaza floor, as they patiently listened to different concerns and took questions. "We'll try again on Monday," said Ald. Ric McIver, who is among the councillors who want to send the budget back to city staff at a council meeting on Monday.
The largest crowd was reserved for the mayor who tried to explain the breakdown of expenditures and capital projects.
"Go and build an overpass, underpass where it's desperately needed in this city," Barry Ferguson told the mayor, outlining his concern about the numerous transport trucks that are held up by trains around Barlow Trail and 50th Avenue S.E.
"Millions of dollars are being wasted right at that intersection but we're worried about ... 1,500 people who ride their bikes into town. Someone's got to go look at, weigh what common sense is here, Dave."
Broconnier replied, "We're putting $3 billion... into roads and transit," and pointed out work is underway on a ring road.
"But I've got some other people telling me to not spend more money on roads," he added.