si-cgy-council-budget

After seven long days of discussion city council passed the 2012 budget — a process that normally takes three to four days. (CBC)

The average homeowner in Calgary will pay $78 more in municipal taxes in 2012, city council has decided.

After nearly seven days of debate, council passed a $2.9-billion spending plan for next year.

Councillors voted 13-2 in favour of the budget. Aldermen Andre Chabot and Peter Demong voted against it, saying a six per cent hike — $6.60 more per month — was too high.

"That's an increase beyond what council had already kind of set expectations for and I'm just trying to keep in line with what council had approved and the indicative tax rate that we had directed administration to bring forward and trying to keep it with what Calgarians had expected from council," said Chabot.

The budget was drawn up with tens of millions of dollars in spending cuts as departments searched for efficiencies. The biggest change was adding $10 million to the police budget.

The boost to police service is the only part of the budget Mayor Naheed Nenshi doesn't like. He pointed out that police services was the only department not to make cuts.

Regardless, Nenshi said Calgarians still enjoy low taxes compared to other cities and said the budget maintains improved snow clearing and that, overall, transit is still growing.

He said council has approved "modest investments in improvements in transit, and that preserves the snow-clearing budget as well as making capital investments in long-delayed things like a redevelopment of Bowness Park,  Laycock Park and a lot of work on community facilities around the city."

Ald. Gord Lowe voted in support of the budget, but said there were things he doesn't like — such as no new transit service for new communities.

"I think we've done a disservice to Calgarians by cutting transit. I think we've done a disservice to Calgarians by not ensuring that the potholes in the roads are fixed. Beyond that, I think there are some rather imaginative solutions to some of the issues that were raised in the budget, using reserves and other revenue streams rather than going to the mill rate. I was extremely pleased we restored the police funding," he said.

To prevent larger tax increases in the years ahead, Lowe was pushing for a tax hike of eight per cent this year.

Lowe said a six per cent hike now only means bigger increases down the road.

The provincial education tax, which makes up the rest of the property tax bill, will be set next spring.

Council also voted for a budget increase of 5.7 per cent for 2013 and 6.1 per cent for 2014.