Proposed Calgary budget would cut services and limit tax increases in 2018

Calgarians would see no new tax increases in 2018 under the proposed city budget but their property tax bills would still grow by 2.9 per cent, on average, as a one-time tax rebate expires.

Taxpayers can expect to pay 2.9% more next year, even with no tax increase, as one-time rebate expires

Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to reporters about the proposed city budget for 2018. (James Young/CBC)

Calgarians would see no new tax increases in 2018 under the proposed city budget but their property tax bills would still grow by 2.9 per cent, on average, as a one-time tax rebate expires.

Taxes would increase by an additional 0.8 per cent if council approves a request from police for more funding.

The proposed budget aims to close a $170-million gap between spending and revenues through cuts across all city departments.

The police are asking to not only be exempt from those cuts but to also have their ranks expanded by 55 members and to purchase body-worn cameras for officers.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi believes that's a "reasonable request" and expects council will approve it.

"Given that we heard about so much community safety over the course of the election, I anticipate that most members of council will say, 'yeah, this is something we've got to do,'" he said Friday.

Transit on the chopping block

The proposed cuts include the elimination of 156 full-time city jobs.

The reductions are targeted using what the city has dubbed a "least harm" approach, meaning front-line services are to be spared, where possible.

Still, some services are on the chopping block — such as Calgary Transit, which is facing a reduction of 46,800 service-hours.

The proposed budget calls for trips to be eliminated or reduced in frequency along 27 transit routes.

Tax rebate expires

Even if council keeps the tax increase to zero per cent, Calgarians would still pay more on their property tax bills than they did in 2017.

That's because council previously approved a one-time rebate that applied only to the 2017 tax bills, effectively deferring that year's tax increase to 2018.

As a result, next year's property tax bills would increase by an average of 2.9 per cent over what people paid this year.

Coun. Jeromy Farkas said he's "not happy" with that.

Coun. Jeromy Farkas says he's 'not happy' with aspects of the city's proposed budget for 2018. (James Young/CBC)

"I think it speaks to the fact that we can't keep pursuing Band-Aid solutions with one-time rebates," he said.

"You need to actually take a look at, structurally, what we are spending money on."

A one-per-cent increase in municipal taxes would translate to about $1.50 more per month for a typical, homeowner.

Utility and waste and recycling fees would also increase by $8.59 per month, on average, under the draft budget.

Council is set to discuss the financial plan starting Nov. 27, and the budget deliberations may take several days.

With files from Scott Dippel