As city council begins its annual budget debate at city hall Monday, Calgarians can have their say on proposed adjustments to next year’s spending plan.
Several dozen people have signed up to speak directly to elected officials during a public hearing.
Next year’s budget already has a previously approved 3.4 per cent property tax hike baked in.
Following council’s direction, the city’s administration is proposing to add up to 28 items to the budget, something that could push that tax hike up to 5.7 per cent.
Administration is also recommending council shift some of the property tax burden from business properties to residential accounts.
If that happens, it would mean 2024’s municipal tax bill would increase by 7.8 per cent.
The city says that would still be below the rate of inflation plus population growth for Calgary.
Hike too much for some
Not everyone on council is comfortable with an increase like that coming at a time Calgarians are facing higher costs on many other items.
“My residents will chase me out of office if I agree to that,” said veteran councillor Andre Chabot.
He said he cannot support the property tax shift. As well, he plans to reject some of the spending increases and will suggest other areas to reduce spending.
Chabot’s preference is to get that proposed tax hike down to something more like 3.4 per cent.
He says many of the budget add-ons are “nice-to-haves,” some of which fall outside the city’s responsibility.
He cited investing $6 million annually in Calgary’s mental health and addictions strategy as being in the provincial government’s jurisdiction.
The big-ticket add-on items include covering higher costs due to inflation ($27 million), paying for a new housing strategy ($27 million in annual costs and $54 million in one-time costs) and improving transit and community safety ($15 million in annual costs with $2 million in one-time costs).
What Calgarians want
Mayor Jyoti Gondek is defending the possibility of a 7.8 per cent residential tax hike.
She said the tax ratio shift will help Calgary businesses stay competitive. And the additional spending in the proposed adjustments is responding to what Calgarians tell the city they want in terms of services.
“None of these are nice-to-haves,” said the mayor.
“There’s a lot of people in our city right now that are in positions of extreme vulnerability and it’s absolutely imperative that the City of Calgary is delivering the services and products that those folks need.”
While council hopes to set the 2024 property tax rate by the end of this week, next year’s tax bills will not be finalized until the spring.
That’s when the provincial government will reveal how much it wants the city to collect for the provincial education property tax.
Last year, council approved a 4.4 per cent municipal property tax hike for 2023.
The city maintains its property tax rates remain competitive among major Canadian cities. It says the average annual increase in taxes was 1.19 per cent over the 2019-23 period.