Calgary city councillors are plowing through the 2017 budget Monday, trying to create a financial plan that reflects Calgary’s still-struggling economy.
It’s expected council will approve a freeze on the tax rate–bringing it to zero–after originally planning for a 4.7 per cent increase, which was then shaved to 1.5 per cent for 2017.
“Our goal is to come out with a zero per cent increase … that is the direction that council set back in June,” Ward 11 Coun. Brian Pincott said. “I certainly am determined to look at – and maintain – a zero per cent tax increase.”
Calgary business man David Winkler says that’s not enough.
Winkler owns an apartment building in the southeast neighbourhood of Ramsay. He says he paid a 100 per cent property tax increase last year and was looking at more than 20 per cent this year.
“This year, the taxes on my apartment building doubled and next year we are looking at 21 per cent,” he said.
“The proposed freeze in 2017 is appreciated, but what I would really like is a property tax rollback.”
Suburban businesses may also get hit with a hike in taxes because downtown businesses are suffering.
Commercial vacancy rates are at over 20 per cent in the city’s core–the lowest since the 1980s. Their tax bills are falling, but the difference has to be made up by the suburban companies.
A group representing small businesses says the city has to do more to make the tax regime fairer.
“Businesses pay almost four times more than residences on the same assessed property value,” Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) spokesperson Amber Ruddy said. “We need to see the government flatten that gap between what businesses and residences pay.
“Businesses are more than happy to pay their fair share, but this is excessive. We need to see those suburban businesses supported.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he hears the pain. He said the city isn’t only looking to freeze tax increases next year, but is looking at moderate cuts to service. He says the jury is out on what to expect in 2018.
“What’s the economic growth going to be? Will downtown vaccany bounce back? What will inflation look like in the city’s various costs?…So it’s really up in the air.”
Councillors will also be debating a number of one-time initiatives to help increase access to affordable housing and funding support for social programs, in addition to helping support small businesses.
The budget discussions are expected to last at least two days.