Calgary council passes budget, 3.45% property tax hike for 2019

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council approves 4-year budget' Calgary city council approves 4-year budget
WATCH: After a week of deliberations, Calgary city council has passed a four-year budget. Adam MacVicar has the details – Nov 30, 2018

After a week of deliberations, Calgary city council voted nine votes for and five votes against to pass the One Calgary 2019-2022 Service Plans and Budgets.

Councillors opposing to passing the budget included George Chahal, Diane Colley-Uruqhart, Jeromy Farkas, Sean Chu and Peter Demong. Councillor Ray Jones was absent for the deliberations.

Council voting to approve a 3.45 per cent property tax increase for 2019.

“We’re looking at about five dollars per month to the average household,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters following the vote. “And for that five dollars a month, we managed to hire new bus drivers, we hired new police officers, we continue to keep the streets safe and we continue to keep the city clean and healthy.”

On the final day of deliberations, council also tackled the tax burden facing businesses outside the downtown core.

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Due to higher vacancy in downtown office space, the city is faced with an $89-million gap.  This caused non-residential taxes to increase 25 per cent.

A motion by Mayor Nenshi passed on Friday, that would find salary and wage savings to be used to alleviate that tax burden.

“It starts on filling the hole,” Nenshi, said. “With this shift and one-time money in the same amount in the last two years, we’ll be able to cap the property taxes for businesses outside the downtown core at 10 per cent.”

Mayor Nenshi said council will be diving into the issue further in the first quarter of 2019.

WATCH: Calgary Public Libraries will receive an additional $1.4 million dollars from the city in 2019 but officials fear it’s not enough to keep up with rising costs. Michael King reports.

Click to play video: 'Budget limitation could affect Calgary library operations' Budget limitation could affect Calgary library operations
Budget limitation could affect Calgary library operations – Dec 2, 2018

Council also debated, and passed a motion that proposed one-time investments in capital projects, using $43 million in unallocated capital dollars over four years.

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The investments would pay for small upgrades to parks, community associations and the purchase of three new LRT cars to get a volume discount on an existing order.

“Whether it’s a new roof on your local hockey arena, or whether its a community park, or whether it’s just a little bit better transit,” Nenshi said, “we’ve managed to invest in those areas that people have told us that are the most important.”

The investment includes $6 million for parks projects, $6.5 million for community associations and recreation groups, $5.5 million for streets and pathways, $17.5 million for transit and the new LRT cars, $7.5 million for urban forestry, and investments into upgrades and maintenance to existing recreational facilities.

As for larger capital projects, Mayor Nenshi said the city has four or five capital projects that are unfunded: a fieldhouse, an expanded convention centre and arena, Olympic Plaza revitalization, and expansions to Arts Commons, to name a few.

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“It’ll be very difficult to do all of those and I would argue it will be very difficult to do any of those.” Nenshi said.

Earlier in the day, council voted to reverse a cut to Calgary Libraries, instead providing them $1.4 million; half of what they originally requested.  The money is expected to cover inflation over the next four years.

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“You’ll probably see reduced hours, we’re seeing security being reduced,” Ward 8 Councillor, Evan Wooley, said. “There will be implications on the ground from this.”

The morning session also saw council voting to move $18 million over four years to civic partners, that money coming from a .25 per cent cut to corporate costs.

The money will be going to a group of organizations including Calgary Economic Development, Heritage Park, Calgary Arts Development and the Calgary Parks Foundation.

“In the past year, Calgary Economic Development has brought roughly 75 companies to Calgary, we have now attracted or retained over 6,000 jobs and lets be clear, in the context of the amount of people who have lost their job in this city, that’s a fraction, but it’s a start,” Ward 6 Councillor Jeff Davison, said. “We need to turn up the volume on bringing those jobs here if we want to see success in this city.”

Some councillors seeing the investment as necessary to show that the city is trying to diversify during a tough economic period for the city.

“Oil and gas will remain a foundation of our economy for decades to come, but we have to re-focus our efforts on the future,” Wooley said. “That’s agribusiness, financial services, transportation and logistics, life sciences and health, creative industries and tourism.”

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Property taxes will increase three per cent in 2020, 2021 and 2022; along with that, user fees will also be on the rise, which is expected to cost the average homeowner $113 yearly.

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