Calgary

Most of council calls for 'drastic' $60M budget cut, but Nenshi's not so sure

Ten members of Calgary city council are calling for $60 million in permanent municipal budget cuts as part of a plan to cut non-residential property taxes by 10 per cent, but the mayor is not among them.

Council's scrambling to lower skyrocketing tax bills for business property owners

Calgary city council will vote Monday on whether to cut the municipal budget by $60 million, to help finance a non-residential property tax cut. (CBC)

A Calgary city councillor, backed by at least nine colleagues, is calling for $60 million in permanent municipal budget cuts as part of a plan to lower non-residential property taxes by 10 per cent.

Coun. Shane Keating has put forward a notice of motion for Monday's council meeting that calls for city administration to look for budget reductions for the 2019 tax year, with a deadline for recommendations of July 31.

Keating's motion explicitly states administration can include eliminating programs, services or staff to achieve the desired budget cut. It has been signed by nine other councillors: Ward Sutherland, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Evan Woolley, George Chahal, Jeff Davison, Peter Demong, Joe Magliocca, Sean Chu and Gian-Carlo Carra.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek did not sign the motion, but told CBC News she supports it.

The $60 million in cuts would be combined with $70.9 million of funding that was previously allocated from reserve funds, for a total of $130.9 million to lower what some have called skyrocketing tax bills.

Many business property owners outside of the downtown core have seen drastic increases in their 2019 municipal taxes, while some downtown properties have seen large reductions due to dropping property values in the city core.

"It is drastic to some degree," said Keating, who added he believes his plan contains "bits and pieces" of other tax relief plans that have failed in recent weeks and potentially includes more cuts than were previously considered.

This challenge is at a crisis point.- Coun. Evan Woolley

"Maybe we're in that time frame now, where we have to start looking at those things and saying OK let's move forward," said Keating.

According to Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley, the proposal is the "most significant business tax relief" they've come up with.

"This challenge is at a crisis point," said Woolley, who did not have specifics on what services or jobs may be eliminated as part of this proposal.

"This budget reduction will have front line service implications. It is a significant reduction to our budget in a very short period of time," said Woolley.

Mayor not in favour

While Mayor Naheed Nenshi supported a previous plan for tax relief, he was not signatory to the notice of motion for this plan.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, the mayor said he finds Monday's proposal "quite different" and called it "challenging."

"I believe that new plan goes too hard, too fast for marginal improvements," wrote Nenshi, who also criticized the potential $60 million in cuts "without knowing what they are."

Nenshi went on to write that he believes council is close to a solution, and a tax freeze could be possible with only "minor changes" to what's proposed.

Gondek indirectly replied to the mayor on Twitter, writing that Nenshi did not have a viable alternative and was signalling an "unwillingness to put self-interest aside in the face of a crisis for the business community."

Motion expected to pass

With 10 of 15 council members having signed the notice of motion, it's expected to pass at a special meeting on Monday. The motion also calls on the mayor to ask the provincial government to start discussing property assessment reform.

If approved, the affected tax bills would see a downward adjustment no later than Aug. 1 despite property taxes having already been mailed out for 2019.

About the Author

Anis Heydari

Producer

Anis Robert Heydari has worked in jobs ranging from cleaning up oil spills to fixing phone lines, but somehow ended up a jack-of-all-trades at the CBC. He's now working at CBC Radio's "The Cost of Living" covering business and economics. Reach him at anis@cbc.ca.

With files from Scott Dippel

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