Kusie: Calgarians have good reason to be upset about property taxes

Published on: June 22, 2016 | Last Updated: June 22, 2016 3:00 AM MDT
http://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/kusie-calgarians-have-good-reason-to-be-upset-about-property-taxes

 

There’s been a lot of talk about property taxes lately — and for good reason. Calgarians are shocked and appalled by the increases they’ve received in the mail. 

The vast majority of Calgarians I’ve spoken to aren’t opposed to taxation. They’re fine with paying their tax bill, provided the rates are reasonable and the money is handled prudently and effectively. But lately, more and more Calgarians are telling me city hall isn’t meeting those criteria. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples to back that up.

Back in September, city council became wise to the fact that Calgary’s economy was hurting and Calgarians would not support the property tax increase that politicians approved. Council decided to reduce the 4.7 tax increase down by a measly 1.2 per cent, landing at a 3.5 per cent tax increase.

It was a start, but not anywhere near what was needed. Combined with the provincial government’s education property tax increase, most people saw a combined tax rate increase of 6.1 per cent.

Common Sense Calgary has called on city hall repeatedly to ease the tax burdens for Calgarians during this difficult time. During the action plan review in September, we asked council to drop the tax increase from the proposed 4.7 per cent hike to 1.3 per cent — the rate of inflation for the city.

Both city hall and the provincial government ignored the request. In an act of tone-deaf leadership, the pair of governments somehow expected Calgarians, who had been suffering with job losses and pay cuts, to cough up enough money for a tax increase that was more than four times the rate of inflation.

Then there was the opportunity in November during the review of the capital budget to cut back and ease the burden for Calgarians. The proposed budget saw this amount balloon from $1.6 billion to $2.3 billion. City hall did a re-evaluation of this plan with the opportunity to decrease expenditures. However, this was not the path they chose — city hall decided to spend away once again.

This past December, there was much excitement over the $30 million in “found” dollars in the city’s resiliency fund. But instead of returning the funds to taxpayers, or earmarking the money for debt repayment, as Common Sense Calgary urged, city hall spent the money as well. Another let down for Calgary taxpayers.

Sadly, these examples come from the past calendar year alone.

The pages of the newspaper are filled these days with sad stories of businesses folding and proud citizens who just can’t pay their tax bill. Thousands of people have lost their jobs and received pay cuts. For many others, the funds are starting to run dry from their severance packages.

Again, we find a completely different story at city hall. There are no sad stories about layoffs or pay cuts. There’s little talk of scaling back golden pension plans for city employees, or other reforms that could demonstrate that city hall understands the pain of those who are funding council’s operations. It begs the question: “who works for who?”

One thing should be clear. Calgarians have good reason to be upset about their rising tax bills. Calgarians deserve some relief — relief that city hall should finally deliver.

Stephanie Kusie is executive director of Common Sense Calgary, a citizen’s advocacy group dedicated to lower taxation and responsible spending at city hall.