A $52-million tax surplus should be used to build a new transitway stretching from north Calgary to the South Health Campus, according to Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating.

Keating floated the idea on Monday — which is being supported by Mayor Naheed Nenshi — as city council continued the process of hammering out next year’s budget

Nenshi says it's an idea worth considering given the lack of money from the federal and provincial governments.

"Given just how much people particularly in southeast and north central Calgary have told us over and over and over again that their No. 1 priority is better transit, I don't think they should have to wait three, four, five years before we can put a single shovel in the ground," he said.

As it stands, taxpayers are facing a 6.1 per cent property tax hike.

But councillors are divided about what to do with next year’s tax surplus — money that became available after the city absorbed the unused portion of the provincial education property tax.

Reducing tax hike another option

A majority of councillors have said the $52 million should be used to whittle down the tax hike.

Others agree with city administrators that the fund should be earmarked for flood mitigation projects, as it was in the current budget year.

Until recently, Keating said he favoured using the money for tax relief.

But on Monday he proposed using the funds every year for the next 10 years to develop a new southeast public transit line.

He said the money would kickstart a multi-billion dollar separate bus-only roadway stretching from the city’s far north to the new hospital in the far south.

The project would lay the groundwork for an eventual southeast LRT line, Keating said.

Keating said people in his ward have told him their highest priority is improved transit.

“I have to listen to the residents and 87 per cent told me, 'See what you can do for our transit,'” he said.

New levy proposed 

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart has said she wants to return the $52 million to taxpayers.

On Monday she also suggested a new levy be placed on property tax bills, money that would be earmarked for flood costs.

“I'm interested in a levy that's not just on the residential side but the non-residential side as well with business, and to me it really would need to be across the board.”

Colley-Urquhart said she doesn't know if there would be support on council for such a levy but she said she wants all ideas on the table.