Calgary city councillors propose two approaches to business tax relief

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Calgary’s proposed property tax relief plan not receiving provincial support
WATCH: The City of Calgary has come up with an emergency plan to tackle high property tax increases, but the premier doesn’t support the idea. Adam MacVicar reports – May 31, 2019

After voting down a small business grant program, Calgary city councillors are proposing another remedy to relieve the tax burden on city businesses. But council will still have to decide on one of two different approaches.

The first approach, backed by 13 councillors and Mayor Naheed Nenshi, would involve a combination of the proposed $70.9 million in city funds originally proposed for business tax relief, an additional $60 million in medium-term administration savings and a proposed provincial match of $60-million to make a total of $190.9 million — all to be applied to non-residential property tax accounts “on a basis proportional to their increases.”

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The approach from Ward 11 Councillor Jeromy Farkas calls for cuts to councillor and city staff pay, freezing of councillor pensions, the withdrawal of $50 million from the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund, $35 million in budget reductions and the aforementioned $70.9 million be combined and applied as a credit to non-residential tax accounts, “proportional to their bill.”

Farkas also called for a city employee survey to poll for other cost-saving ideas.

Ward 13 Councillor Diane-Colley Urquhart said Thursday council has to do something in 2019 to provide relieve for non-residential tax bills.

“Even if the bills have already gone out, to me, that’s no excuse or reason for us to not be able to move forward. We can always do things retroactively.”

Mayor Nenshi, along with councillors Shane Keating, George Chahal, Ward Sutherland, Jyoti Gondek, Peter Demong, Jeff Davison, Joe Magliocca, Druh Farrell and Gian-Carlo Carra, conferred from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Quebec City with councillors Colley-Urquhart, Sean Chu, Ray Jones and Evan Woolley to come up with their plan to help Calgary businesses.

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LISTEN: Ward 3 Councillor Jyoti Gondek joins The Morning News to discuss the notices of motion to help Calgary businesses with their tax bills

Farkas said his notice of motion presents a smorgasbord of ideas for council to consider.

“Essentially, I am offering an ‘all-you-can-cut buffet’ — a number of different options for city council to adopt,” the Ward 11 councillor said Thursday. “It could be that city council only goes for half of my ideas, but even that is better than nothing.”

Colley-Urquhart said there are similarities in the notices of motion from the group of 14 and Farkas, presenting opportunities to bridge the divide.

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“I haven’t read his notice of motion yet, but from what I’ve read, there’s a lot of common ground. And certainly we’ll be reaching out to Councillor Farkas so we can all be united and all on the same page.”

WATCH: (May 27, 2019) City of Calgary assessing public golf course real estate in hopes of saving tax dollars

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City of Calgary assessing public golf course real estate in hopes of saving tax dollars

On Friday, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu said Calgary’s city council shouldn’t be looking to the province for help with the business tax burden.

“The City of Calgary needs to look after its own house,” Madu said in a statement. “They have hiked operational spending far beyond inflation and population over the last decade. Council needs to think about where this money has gone and why it has become so reliant on passing its spending hikes onto businesses.

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“It is hard work, but we are doing our part at the Legislature.”

Nenshi said Madu’s characterization of the city’s recent spending, apparently informed by a municipal spending report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is misinformed.

“In fact, total city spending over the last four years has increased by two per cent less than inflation and population growth (5.68 per cent versus 7.59 per cent, respectively),” Nenshi said in an emailed statement to Global News on Friday.

“The challenge we have is one of distribution, not of overall tax or spending levels. In short, some businesses are getting huge tax cuts while others are seeing huge tax increases as a result of the redistribution.”

LISTEN: Councillors Jeromy Farkas and Shane Keating join Danielle Smith to discuss the approaches to relieving business tax bills

Nenshi acknowledged the UCP government is committed to lowering taxes for employers and “hopes this will extend to the effects of property tax as well,” part of which goes to the province.

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“It’s also worth noting that almost 40 per cent of all property tax payments go straight to the province. While the city has allocated over $150 million buffering business from this tax distribution problem the past two years, the previous government did nothing on this issue but pocket the money.

“Indeed, the city has not only been looking after its own house, it’s also been looking after the province’s.”

Colley-Urquhart said decisions affecting livelihoods will have to be made.

“We have to cut,” Colley-Urquhart said. “We have to eat what we kill. So that’s the primary thing now that we’re looking at as far as moving forward. It’s programs. It’s services. It’s layoffs. The majority of our budget down here is staffing.”

The next opportunity for council to hear notices of motion is June 17, but Colley-Urquhart said she’ll try to have the notice heard in the June 10 strategic meeting of council.

— with files from Aurelio Perri.

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