Calgary residents should know indicative tax rates by May

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says Calgary residents will soon have an idea of what tax rate increases they can expect for the next four years.

Mayor, city council started 4-year budget planning Friday

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says council hopes to set tax rate targets for the next four years by May. (CBC)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says Calgary residents will soon have an idea of what tax rate increases they can expect for the next four years. 

City council started talking about its new four-year budget cycle Friday and will set indicative tax rates for that time period by May 5.

The city is moving from a three-year cycle to four years to bring the budget into line with longer terms of office for city council set in the last election.

Nenshi says today's meeting will look at an overview of the city's financial health, leading to several months of discussion on what should be in the four-year budget plan.

"We will have a briefing talking about the current financial and operational status of the City of Calgary, as well as some of the trends and numbers around things like inflation and population growth," he said.

City administration projects Calgary's economy will continue to grow.

They project Calgary will have a population of 1.27 million by 2018, and the city's budget will be stressed by a demand for increased services while revenues stay flat or drop.

Currently 42 per cent of the city's operating budget is funded by property taxes, which is up from 37 per cent just five years ago.

Chief Financial Officer Eric Sawyer says he has concerns about funding the city's capital budget, as Municipal Sustainability Initiative​ (MSI) funding had gone down significantly and the city's debt has increased.

While Sawyer calls the city's debt "high but manageable," he says there is an increasing challenge in finding more efficiencies inside city operations.

Nenshi says he can see the city debt going higher unless there's a new stable source of funding from the province. 

Sawyer believes property tax is the only area to make up revenues to help pay the costs of more services.

He said pressure to keep taxes low means consideration of substitutions rather than additions to budgets.

There will also be a public consultation to determine what Calgarians want from city hall in the years ahead.