City council torn on mayor's revised tax plan
Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier's plan to shave a handful of percentage points off a hefty three-year property tax hike is not good enough, says one of the aldermen planning to reject the proposal.
Ald. Ric McIver said he is still prepared to send the budget back to city staff at a council meeting on Monday. McIver would like to see the yearly tax hike closer to the rate of inflation, or about five per cent.
"If we don't control the spending, then that just brings it open to big tax increases in the long run and I think that we need to look after the Calgarians' interest on a long-run basis, rather than a year-by-year basis."
Many of the eight aldermen who vowed to reject the budget still haven't changed their minds, CBC's Tom Spear reported. But Ald. John Mar said he wants to hear more about the mayor's proposed changes to the budget, as well as hear what his constituents have to say about the plan.
"The game has changed — the field has changed — in the last 24 hours, and what I'd like to do is work together, because that's what Calgarians ask us to do," Mar said.
|Proposed property tax increases|
|Source: City of Calgary|
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 to cover the extra spending.
Eight out of 15 alderman, including Mar, vowed Thursday to defeat that proposal. Facing a potential tax revolt, Bronconnier and finance committee chairman Ald. Gord Lowe released a revised budget late Thursday afternoon.
Bronconnier and Lowe propose that on top of its annual $35-million contribution to city coffers, Enmax, the city's power utility, should divert an additional $8 million, originally slated for parks, to the city's general revenues.
As well, the province has confirmed it's taking over responsibility for Calgary Emergency Medical Services on April 1, 2009, which removes funding set aside for the service from the city budget.
The proposal would mean residential property taxes would go up by 6.8 per cent in 2009, 6.2 per cent in 2010 and 6.5 per cent in 2011, compared to 9.6 per cent, 6.8 per cent and 6.9 per cent, respectively, in the former plan.
Tough choices have to be made: mayor
In an interview with CBC Radio's Calgary Eyeopener Friday morning, Bronconnier defended his new plan.
"Sending it back to administration is not a solution. It's a deferral of some tough decisions," he said. "Tough choices have to be made. Now is the time to do it."
About 90 per cent of the funding in the operating budget was pre-approved by an "overwhelming" majority of aldermen, Bronconnier said.
"People put up their hands and voted yes at the time because they thought it was pretty good. Markets' volatilities change, people look at total numbers, and they say 'Wow, I didn't realize we were actually committing to this type of expenditure, maybe we should have a second look,' " he said.
The only other option is to "gut" the municipal workforce, a move that is not possible in a growing city, he added.
"City council crafted this budget. They approved the major expenditures that go into building the foundational work of the budget and now, when you've got to approve the final document, it all comes with a price tag."