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‘Calgary is closing’: City businesses campaigning against rising property tax bills

WATCH: Some shop owners say Calgary is closing its doors and for good. As Christa Dao explains, there's a call to action in the battle the increasing commercial property taxes.

The debate over increasing property taxes continues to intensify and for some Calgary business owners, it’s a fight to keep their business alive.

A new social media campaign called “Sorry, Calgary is closing” launched this week and calls for businesses to band together against skyrocketing tax increases.

Barre Belle co-founder Kristi Stuart said her property taxes have gone up 15 per cent from 2017 to 2018. She hasn’t received her assessment for 2019 but was told it would be even higher. Two of her fitness studios could be on the brink of closing.

“This is the final punch that’s going to knock us out, and everybody’s really mad,” Stuart said Thursday.

READ MORE: Calgary’s proposed property tax relief plan not receiving provincial support

Stuart and other small business owners have organized a rally for Monday at 7:30 a.m. outside city hall. According to Stuart, the timing is not coincidental.

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“The reason we’re doing it at 7:30 is because when councillors come into work, I want them to look at the faces that these property tax increases are going to affect,” she said.

“Seeing council not respect our city like the way we’re respecting our businesses is irresponsible… In a couple of months, you could go to your favourite shop and it may not be there. We’re trying to be proactive instead of reactive and say, ‘Listen, council, this is not going to fly.'”

She’s also behind a petition calling on the provincial government to fire all of Calgary city council, including the mayor. Premier Jason Kenney has said he will not be firing them but Stuart said enough is enough.

“How many chances do they get to screw up? Three strikes, you’re out.”

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Ward 9 Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said council is very aware of the frustrations and its why they have planned an emergency meeting Monday to deal with the tax crisis.

“There’s a lot of shock,” he said. “People are feeling gut-punched and they’re feeling freaked out… We’re proposing a final one-year fix that will hold our tax levels at 2018 levels.

“The fix, however, would be a temporary one.

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READ MORE: Kenney government introduces bill allowing multi-year tax incentives for business

Carra said he and other councillors are working on a task force to provide long term tax solutions.

“We cannot do any more one-year fixes. And it’s going to take all of us working towards that,” Carra said. “If you want to spend your time calling for council to be fired and reap that whirlwind, I would suggest that’s not the best use of any of our time.”

Louis Bontorin, co-owner and vice-president of sales and administration of Calgary Italian Bakery said the future is looking uncertain as property taxes are hitting their shop hard too. He’s also calling for council to come up with a long-term solution.

“It’s a little bleak, that’s the hard part. Everyone’s tightening their belts,” Bontorin said, adding his business hasn’t seen it this bad since the ’80s.

“Nothing has been as bad as the 80s, and this seems to be a deeper fall,” he said. “Hopefully, there is reprieve on the way.”

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