Should the city continue to spend on the backs of municipal taxpayers, or should it tighten its belt? Does the burden to fill the tax void of our empty downtown core fall on residential homeowners, businesses or commercial developers?
Some Calgarians got a reprieve from further tax increases this election year, but concern remains that the municipal government has become too bloated, while small businesses are shutting their doors, the broader economy is struggling, and the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the country.
The city’s budget increased by more than $1 billion, or 35 per cent, in the last decade, resulting in tax increases that outpaced inflation and population growth, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).
Instead of cutting spending after a third of offices in the downtown core were vacated by the economic downtown, resulting in a $250 million cumulative decrease in revenues from downtown properties over the period 2016/2019, the city shifted the tax burden to businesses outside the core and to residential taxpayers. To soften the impact, the city implemented a series of tax-relief measures funded from a rainy-day fund.
Plenty of fat could be cut, critics say. Labour costs, the city’s biggest expense, increased 13 per cent from 2014 to 2019, while compensation paid to all Albertans declined by 5 per cent over the same period, according to CTF. The mayor, councillors and city employees collect lavish salaries and pensions, and too much money is spent frivolously on public art, out-of-town travel and city-owned golf courses, the group argues.
But more spending is on the horizon as the city invests in the Green Line LRT, a new arena, downtown revitalization and initiatives to diversify the economy.
How do you feel about property taxes?