A new budget for Calgary will include investments in a wide range of programs for Calgarians and provide some relief to businesses at some cost to homeowners.
In a 9-6 vote, city council approved a 7.8 per cent increase in residential property taxes, representing an additional $16 per month for a median-priced home valued at $610,000. Councillors McLean, Wyness, Chu, Wong, Sharp and Chabot voted in opposition to the budget.
Council also approved a shift of the city’s overall tax burden towards residential properties, a trend that will continue by one per cent per year for the next three years. By 2027, residential property owners will shoulder 55 per cent of the city’s budget.
In responding to feedback from citizens, the city will invest in areas like homelessness, poverty and affordable housing, infrastructure and roads, crime and policing, and transit.
As part of a long-term strategy to improve transit and community safety, the city is adding $2 million in one-time funding and $15 million per year.
Calgary’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy will be getting $6 million in annual funding.
The Calgary Fire Department will be getting $3.4 million in ongoing funding per year.
And to address the housing crisis, the city is adding $27 million in annual program funding, $90 million in capital funding and a one-time $54.5 million tranche next year.
Calgary’s mayor said this year’s budget process was meant to address previous years of cuts.
“We asked (city) administration and Calgarians the same question: in all of the years that we have been doing nothing but cutting services, what has suffered?’” Jyoti Gondek said.
She said some of the city’s budget will go towards crises that would normally be the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments, like housing, mental health and addictions.
“We can’t wait for other orders of government to respond quickly and appropriately while we ‘wait it out’ because, simply put, they are not interested in doing the right thing right now. We still have a lot of convincing to do,” Gondek said. “And in the meantime, there’s people who are unhoused, there are people who are unsafe and there are people who are dying in our streets. We serve those people.”
She said the budget decision sends a message.
“Your local government sees where services are desperately needed, and we won’t turn our backs on people.”
Through the life of the four-year budget, the departments that will see the largest increases in funding are utilities and environment, public safety and bylaws, transportation, and social programs and services.
Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott noted the decision to invest $54.5 million in one-time and $90 million in new capital investments to address housing and homelessness comes on an auspicious day.
“Today is National Housing Day,” Walcott said. “We made an amazing, historic investment in social housing … that (sets) the stage for years to come.
“No one is ever happy about taxes, but the reality is I’ve listened to a year of demands from the public. And most of those demands are for the things that we’ve done today.”
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said it was “encouraged” by the decision to shift the tax share more towards residential property owners.
“Today’s decision to shift the property tax ratio by one percent is progress, however, it leaves Calgary vulnerable compared to other jurisdictions across Canada,” Chamber president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said in a prepared statement. “As the most entrepreneurial city in Canada, we need a policy environment that supports Calgary in being the destination of choice for business and investors. Moreover, we need to support those businesses that have thrived in Calgary for decades but are now facing untenable increases in their taxes, impacting their ability to grow, increase wages or remain operational.”
Wednesday’s debate saw dozens of amendments that aimed to remove some of the spending, and the tax shift from the budget adjustment in an effort to lower the impact on property taxes.
Among those amendments were attempts to cut a program that makes transit free for kids under the age of 12, the removal of funding for the city’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, and a proposal to use surplus funds to ease the impact of the tax shift on residents.
Nearly every amendment was defeated, which left council with a relatively unchanged budget adjustment than was recommended by city administration at the beginning of deliberations.
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“Economically, many people are on the brink of being pushed into homelessness, many folks that are on a fixed income are currently in a deficit position with regards to their monthly bills,” Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot told council. “My constituents will run me out of office if I vote for this budget.”
The property tax increase that was previously approved for 2024 in the four-year budget was 3.4 per cent.
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp took umbrage with the change in this year’s budget process, saying when council gave direction to city officials, her and her colleagues didn’t set any boundaries.
“We never really gave direction to administration with an envelope. We kind of gave them a blank check and then we said, ‘These are what we’re hearing from Calgarians, bring us something back,’” Sharp told reporters.
“I’m really not sure how you can justify this was actually a budget and not a spending exercise.”
The mayor said despite an increase in taxes to catch up with previous cuts, she’s optimistic there won’t be a need for more tax increases.
“I would say to Calgarians that in a year when we were able to make some key investments, I can tell you that future years will be better because they weren’t faced with the type of cuts that are making their life more difficult,” Gondek said.