James Dobbin combined his love of craft beer and retro video games when he opened Revival Brewcade, Canada’s first arcade brewery, in Calgary last year. While his place is staying afloat, he says many other shops in Inglewood have gone under, partially because of rising taxes.
“When a place becomes vacant, especially in the downtown core, that burden has to be passed on and I think that everybody needs to share that or we are going to see the end of small businesses in Calgary,” Dobbin said.
Dobbin supports a plan that will help spread out the tax burden on Calgary businesses, which will be presented at city council on Monday. It stems from over $250 million in lost property taxes from downtown office towers that now must be made up every year from non-residential properties outside the core.
“What’s happening on Monday is sort of unprecedented and it’s in response to a unprecedented situation,” said Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra on Sunday.
He said all of the city’s options will be laid out to the public.
“On the one hand, it’s going to be the do-nothing option and just say let the market work it out, but if we do nothing, we have a legitimately large and frightening number of businesses that are going to be in trouble and we can’t do that,” Carra said. “On the far end of the spectrum, and this is where my thinking has taken me, we do a full shift.”
Carra said retaining the current tax system would put thousands of businesses at risk. He supports a solution that would see homeowners share the pain, with taxes on an average home going up by $500 per year.
“We pay amongst the lowest residential property taxes of any big city anywhere in Canada and I will look you in the eye and tell you, you get a better suite of services for that money,” Carra said. “It’s a bargain at that cost. The reality is it’s a bargain at $2,500 as well.”
Other solutions would see cuts to four major capital projects that were approved by council earlier this month.
“I believe we should build the four projects,” Carra said. “I believe that people should pay what things cost for a great suite of services and I think we have to have that conversation wide open with Calgarians.”
On March 14, Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley released his own plan for dealing with the tax burden on businesses. He announced a notice of motion that will be presented at council on Monday.
“Fairness and equity are core principles of mine and over the last number of years, the inequity of our system has become a significant challenge for our business community,” Woolley said in a news release.
“I believe that action needs to be taken through reductions to our city budget and by sharing more equally in decreases to the property values in the downtown.”
While a $500 a year tax hike could be unheard of with a council that fights over increases of $30 per year, small business owners say unless homeowners share in the pain, all of Calgary will suffer.
“Everybody has to chip in because if we want to keep Calgary a vibrant city where people want to stay and work and play, that has to be it,” Dobbin said. “Or we are going to see an exodus of people with this entrepreneurial drive because it will become a very difficult place to do business.”
Council is expected to make a decision on April 1 so tax notices can be mailed out.