Naheed Nenshi on sidewalk snow, business taxes, public art, pot stores and airport LRT

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi took caller questions on Alberta@Noon Friday on a variety of topics. Here are some questions that were asked and his answers, edited for brevity and clarity.

Calgary mayor answers questions from Alberta@Noon listeners

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi tooks questions from Alberta@Noon callers on Friday on issues affecting the city in 2018. (CBC)

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi took caller questions on Alberta@Noon Friday on a variety of topics. Here are some questions that were asked and his answers, edited for brevity and clarity.

Listen to the entire show here or watch the Facebook Live here.

Q: Some Canadian cities include sidewalks as part of snow removal. Why doesn't Calgary do this?

A: I'm very happy to have that conversation with Calgarians. It's really just a question of money, as so many things are.

Doing all of the residential sidewalks in the city, it's in the neighbourhood of more than doubling the existing snow removal budget, which would translate into maybe a five per cent increase in property taxes. These are off-the-top-of-my-head numbers.

There are cities in the country that do do that. We have had a system where we rely on the property owners to clear their sidewalks for many, many years.

It's complaint driven so it is about calling 311. If there is a huge public interest in paying for that service, I am happy to have that conversation.

Q: Some businesses outside of the core say they've been hit with huge tax increases. Why is this?

A: That's why the city has rebated those tax increases to businesses for the last two years, at my urging.

No business has paid more than a five per cent increase, and if your landlord is telling you it went up more than that, then your assessment is completely out of whack and you should call the city.

In Calgary, our downtown core has always been so successful that 50 per cent of all non-residential property taxes were paid by the downtown, and businesses outside of the downtown really benefited from that.

With the downtown vacancy rate being what it is, businesses outside of the downtown have had to make up the difference. That's why council voted last year and this year to put in those rebates so that no one should be paying more than a five per cent increase.

That said, we can't do this forever. We have been using our savings account to cover this up. The real answer here is, we have got to fill those downtown office spaces so that we can see some normalcy in the distribution of assessment again.

Q: Calgary's public art policy has been heavily criticized. What's happening with the policy?

A: We are going through a review of public art right now. When we do it right, we do it really right, but when we do it wrong, we do it really, really, really wrong.

Council is not touching yet, and I hope they won't, the actual money. The one per cent for public art policy is a good policy, a wise policy.

There have been some requests for more public participation, for figuring out ways that we can use public art for other purposes like supporting the work of local artists or helping Indigenous art or historical art come in place.

We are looking at all of those things and figuring out how we can improve the policy.

Q: How will Calgary deal with retail pot stores when it's legalized later this year? There are estimates municipal enforcement could cost cities $200 million to $300 million.

A: I have had conversations with the federal government, who have indicated that the reason they made such a generous cut with the provinces is that their intent is for that money to flow through to municipalities. So I am confident that the Alberta government will treat us fairly on this.

We will be releasing our licensing framework soon and we want to support entrepreneurs of every kind in this city.

Q: When will Calgary have LRT access to the airport like many other cities?

A: Some day.

In the Route Ahead plan, which is the 30-year strategic plan for transit, it is next on the list.

We have to build out the Green Line first, which is a huge, mega, multi-year project. But once the Green Line is done, it will allow for a people-mover along Airport Trail from the Green Line station through to the airport, to the Blue Line, to the northeast line, and that is the long-term plan.

With files from Alberta@Noon