Financial task force makes 35 recommendations to Calgary city council to address tax shift issue

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council presented with 35-point plan on economic future' Calgary city council presented with 35-point plan on economic future
A task force presented Calgary city council with a report outlining recommendations on how to make decisions about property taxes, increase revenue and communicate tax changes to Calgarians. Michael King reports – Jun 30, 2020

A citizen-led financial task force provided Calgary city council with 35 short- and long-term potential solutions on Monday to deal with the economic woes faced by the city because of the tax shift problem.

The task force was set up last year and includes Calgarians with expertise in policy formulation, business strategy, property valuations and finance.

Downtown property values have dropped dramatically since 2015, and the current property tax system forces other businesses to make up for the shortfall in tax revenue. The city has set up several mitigation programs and this year also shifted more of the burden onto residential ratepayers.

Read more: Calgary homeowners frustrated after getting hit with big property tax bills

Among the recommendations from the task force was advocating for multi-year market value assessments to avoid the spikes that can occur.

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Also, there was a suggestion to create sub-classes of businesses, so smaller businesses would not be subject to huge tax increases.​

Read more: Future still uncertain for small businesses in Calgary as city hikes tax rates

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he agrees because previous relief programs seemed to benefit large multi-national firms.

“If we could figure out a way to target and have a lower tax rate for small [businesses], that would be very helpful,” he said. “The current legislation is just too blunt, it doesn’t work and it still doesn’t get us to where we need to be.”

Read more: Calgary creates task force to help businesses affected by COVID-19 pandemic

A number of recommendations would require provincial government approval, including if the city decides to explore new forms of revenues from user fees or new taxes such as a hotel tax or a motor vehicle registration tax.

“I think there is a recognition that there is a need for an improved mix of revenue and those are various avenues that are worth exploring if you want a better mix of revenue,” said Rene Wells, a citizen member of the financial task force.

“The overall level of revenue is a decision of the council.”

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Read more: Calgary councillors call on Alberta government to reform property tax assessments

The mayor said it’s an idea worth exploring.

“Meaningful tax reform has to come from the provincial government and some of my colleagues are scared of that and they say, ‘Oh no, new taxes.’ But listen, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over and over again: any dollar we get in new revenue sources, we will spend a dollar less on property taxes,” he said.

“This is really a plea to the government of Alberta to say, ‘Let’s modernize how cities work and let’s get rid of our reliance on the feudal property tax.'”

City administration will scope out the costs to implement the recommendations and report back to council on July 29.

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