Calgarians expect more from their city

I voted to deliver.

Every day, I hear from Calgarians about how they expect more from their city. This November, Council was tasked with adjusting the budget to turn these demands into action.  

Calgarians have been calling for affordable housing, for better transit, for safer routes to school, for active transportation, for transit safety, and support for mental health and addictions. The City of Calgary’s 2023 Fall Survey of Calgarians ranks the top issues among Calgarians: homelessness, poverty and affordable housing (31%), infrastructure, traffic and roads (28%) and crime, safety and policing (27%). 

This budget has taken some important steps to address these issues.  

Council, working with City Administration, proposed budget adjustments investing in affordable housing, public transit, and community safety. 

Here are some stories about these issues that have dominated the news cycle over the past year. This is not a comprehensive list. 

This year’s budget adjustments includes funding to implement the The City of Calgary’s Housing Strategy and create more affordable housing. This strategy is nationally recognized, validated, and touted as being one of the most comprehensive municipal housing strategies. Just a few weeks ago, our Housing Strategy earned Calgary $228M in funding support from the Federal Housing Accelerator Fund.

Also funded is the Public Transit Safety Strategy, permanent funding to Calgary's Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, along with investments in 5A mobility and public transit. Click here for a detailed list.

Many of the issues The City is taking on are related to public health, housing, and mental health and addictions. When other orders of government fail to respond to crises, the downstream effects play out in our streets, and we are forced to respond as best as we are able.  

While all orders of government have a role to play, Calgary has taken on an average of $311 million per year in increased costs or funding shortalls downloaded from higher orders of government.

The result of the recently-approved budget investments will result in the average home priced at $610,000 seeing an increase of $16 per month.  

For an average additional $16 per month, we can invest in ourselves while building the foundation for more affordable housing, frequent, safe, and reliable transit, doing our fair share to help our communities heal from the mental health crisis and opioid crisis.  

For an additional $16 dollars per month, we’re taking steps to build the city Calgarians expect and deserve.  

What's with the business tax shift?

Over the last decade, challenging economic conditions have transformed our city’s economic base. Large corporations that previously held major footprints in our downtown core’s commercial spaces have shifted their operations, and the work-from-home phenomenon has further accelerated this trend.  

The transformation of our downtown and the shrinking profile of former corporate giants means the character of non-residential properties has undergone significant transformation. Local businesses make up 95 per cent of businesses in Calgary, and 67 per cent of employment. The vacancies left in our downtown are now increasingly being shouldered by small local shops and businesses. 

Since 2014, the non-residential assessment base has shrunk by 11 per cent. Non-residential properties (15,000 businesses) represent 18 per cent of the assessment base of the city, but pay 48 per cent of the property taxes.  

In this same 9-year period, the residential assessment base has increased by 57 per cent. The share of property taxes paid by residential properties has been diluted thanks to this growth: a growing number of residential properties (530,000) pay 52 per cent of the property taxes. 

In Calgary, a typical business pays 4.25 times the taxes on the assessed value of their property to that of an equivalent residential property value. The legal maximum tax ratio is 5, as per Section 358.1 of the Municipal Government Act. 

This has put Calgary in an increasingly uncompetitive position, risks having the Province step in as we approach the legal maximum, and threatens the economic recovery and employment growth we as a city depend on for our future prosperity. 

Shifting the tax share by one per cent – meaning that residential properties take on 53 per cent and businesses 47 per cent — will result in a $4 a month increase for an average residential property valued at $610,000. This is already included in the $16/month increase discussed above. Doing so enables local businesses to re-invest in their operations and the jobs that employ us and our neighbours. 

Are my taxes well spent? 

The economic pressures faced by previous Councils has meant that Calgarians have experienced deferrals and delays in important investments, particularly compared to other major Canadian cities.  

Calgary’s population growth and inflation exceeded The City’s operating expenditures. Every tax dollar Calgarians pay has been “spread out” over a growing pool of Calgarians to keep up with growth and inflation. As a result, from the City’s perspective, less was spent per Calgarian every year.  
  

 

 

The reality is that our municipal government is very efficient in its delivery of services. Our taxes are competitive with other major cities, our municipality employs a comparatively low number of full-time-workers given our population, and we rank very highly in global measures of livability and efficient service delivery.  

But we can’t simply rest on comparisons to other cities. Calgarians tell us every day that if we invest appropriately, we will increase the quality of life for our citizens. We need to do that now more than ever. 

Municipalities have extremely limited ability to raise funds, limited to property taxes and user fees. The City is also prohibited by law from running budget deficits, unlike other orders of government. The province is the ultimate decision maker on how the City raises funds – and they’ve chosen property taxes.   

Property taxes are an imprecise tool for raising revenues in that they do not consider the incomes of property owners.  This is why in our budget there are so many measures targeted toward supporting low-income Calgarians, including an ask to build a new strategy that will allow for more Calgarians to become eligible for Fair Entry services and a $10 million affordability relief program.

If you would like to see municipalities funded through alternate revenue streams, I encourage you to make your suggestions known to The Honourable Ric McIver, Alberta Minister of Municipal Affairs

Latest posts

Your Housing Questions, Answered

Your Housing Questions, Answered

On September 25, 2023, I hosted a conversation about the recently-approved Housing Strategy. Several questions were submitted online. Answers are provided below.

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