Groups plead for funding, spending cuts as Calgary’s budget debate starts

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WATCH: City council started debating Calgary's new four-year budget plan on Monday. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, there is a lot of pressure to keep taxes low at a time when many factors are working against the city.

Dozens of people came before Calgary City Council on Monday as part of the budget public hearing process. The 2019-2022 Service Plans and Budgets was released on Nov. 14.

Many had personal stories about why the city should either cut costs or continue to fund various programs such as low income transit passes.

“That helps for taking kids to daycare [and] mom and dad going to work,” said Hilary Chapple with Fair Fares Calgary. “If I didn’t have the passes now, I couldn’t do all the volunteer work that I do because I still live in poverty.”

City administration is asking council to approve a 3.45 per cent property tax increase in 2019 and hikes of three per cent for the following three years. That means an extra $113 next year for the average homeowner.

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Mayor Naheed Nenshi points to $100-million worth of savings in the budget and he blames two thirds of the tax increase on paying for the cost of new communities approved this year.

“For the first time, we’re being super transparent about that and showing people exactly what growth costs,” Nenshi said. “It means that the vast majority of Calgarians who live in older neighbourhoods are saying ‘What about my cracked sidewalks?’ Should we be thinking about funding that in an explicit, transparent way as well? I think that’s going to be a very good conversation for council to have this week.”

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Meanwhile, business groups are pushing the city to make further cuts in spending.

“You have businesses in Calgary that pay four times more than residents on the same assessed property value,” said Amber Ruddy, Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She said more than 10,000 business owners in Calgary will be getting tax hikes of over 5 per cent.

Council will also have to consider dealing with the costs of declining downtown property values and whether that burden will be shifted from businesses to homeowners.