Sean Chu

Survey Responses:


Question 1.1:

Do you think municipal taxes should:

a) Reduce in absolute terms
b) Reduce in real terms (grow, but slower than inflation)
c) Reduce in relative terms (grow, but slower than inflation plus population growth)
d) Stay the same (grow, but only in line with inflation plus population growth)
e) Increase a bit (grow in line with the city’s Municipal Price Index)
f) Increase more (grow faster than the city’s Municipal Price Index)

 

Answer 1.1 [Choose One]:

a) Reduce in absolute terms


Question 1.2:

Comments?

 

Answer/Comments 1.2:

By doing it this way it would really force us to focus on NEEDS instead of WANTS. A reduction in absolute terms would make sure Council hears the message from Calgarians that they do not trust us to spend their money wisely and find the needed efficiencies within BEFORE increasing taxes.

For almost a decade Calgarians have consistently stated that they do not wish to pay higher taxes while Council continues to spend money on frivolous legacy, and pet, projects. For the last four years I have listened to my residents in person at their doors, on the phone, and via email, repeatedly say “please be the voice of reason on Council”. People are being pushed to their financial limits and, now more than ever, need to be assured that their tax dollars are being spent on NEEDS and not WANTS. That is why I am currently, and have always been, fiscally responsible on city council.

For every new strategy, every program, and every project there is a higher burden placed on taxpayers. But at some point something has to give. People cannot be expected to pay more indefinitely. When will enough be enough? When you hear the word “strategy” or “plan” being tossed around prepare for it to hit you in the pocket book.

I joined this Council in 2013 knowing that the past Council had a spending problem. Four years later it is left up to you to decide whether enough has changed. However, as just one vote on council, I would like to think that I have done my part to try and change the culture. Does this make me unpopular with some people at City Hall? You bet it does! But I was not elected to make friends. I was elected by the residents of Ward 4 to be their voice on Council and that is exactly what I am doing.  I hear it all the time from my residents that they do not want to pay more in taxes while they are not convinced Council will spend their money wisely. 

Simply put the City of Calgary is not doing enough to control spending.  This has an impact on increasing tax costs for taxpayers. Operating costs for the City of Calgary continue to increase more than Consumer Price Index (CPI) and more than increase in the population of the city. Let’s look at this more closely:

Between 2011-2015, operating expenses have increased from $2.911 B to $3.586B, an increase of 23%.  During that same period CPI (Calgary) increased by 8.5% and population increased by 9.82% from (1.12M to 1.23M)

To match increase in costs, taxes have also increased faster than CPI and population.

From 2005-2015, average residential tax increase was 5.9%/year and non-residential tax increase was 5%/year where CPI (Calgary) was 2.2% over the same period.

In the most recent City of Calgary Action Plan – (2015-2018), the 2018 Operating budget is expected to exceed $4B ($4.06B), a further 13% increase over 2015.

The plan includes finding $50M in savings by 2018 through zero based budgeting of certain services (75%).

It also contemplates an increase in FTEs of 4.5%, by 670 to 15,700.

Given the economic downturn, this Action Plan was modified and Mid-Cycle plan adjustments were adopted in November of 2016.

Despite these recent efforts, the City approach continues to be that rising costs (and taxes) is the natural order.  Efforts at finding efficiencies, although helpful, have been minimal.  ($39M savings on a $3.56B budget is only 1%.)

The City of Calgary has adopted the Municipal Price Index as a benchmark to measure its performance.  Although useful to understand its own inflation, this benchmark is largely based on wage inflation, something which the City can have direct control. Consequently, it is an inappropriate gauge to measure success.

A well run city is one that reduces the cost of delivery and improves services. Within a culture of continuous improvement City Council needs to set clear targets to reduce operating costs in its financial plan. By better managing costs, we can deliver better core services to Calgarians and reduce the tax burden. The endless cycle of tax rate increases cannot continue.

If re-elected, I will continue to focus on ensuring strong fiscal management. This includes:

 

>A budget freeze in 2018

>Setting aggressive but realistic targets for cost reduction through supporting a Service and Solution based approach at the City

>Minimizing our requirement for capital expenditures

>Developing spending priorities

>Maintaining a reserve fund that permits us to properly maintain our infrastructure and have a small rainy day fund but is not a burden on taxpayers

 

This will be accomplished through:

 

>Implementing a hiring freeze

>Conducting a program review with a view of identifying those programs that no longer fulfill core City needs

>Zero Based budgeting extended to all municipal departments

>Investing in technology and process improvements to reduce operating costs

>Support a service based approach at the City, breaking down barriers between departments and generating efficiencies

>Supporting a solution based approach for the delivery of services and working with service providers and the community at large to generate efficiencies

 

Calgarians are looking to government – Federal, Provincial, and Municipal – for leadership and sound investment to strengthen and diversify our economy moving forward. And, Calgarians in particular, are looking to government to be more watchful and aware of how their tax dollars are being spent.


Question 2.1:

Would you vote in favour of allocating any tax dollars or giving any subsidy towards a new stadium/arena?

 

Answer 2.1 [Yes/No Only]:

No.


Question 2.2:

If yes, how much and in what form would these taxes take (direct cash, land, subsidy, indirect, etc), and why do you support public dollars being directed towards a corporation?

 

Answer/Comments 2.2:

I do not believe that taxpayer dollars should be used to build the new private sports arena. However, I am supportive of the current offer of land allocation and possible tax incentives. I believe this to be a reasonable use of City resources to create employment and steady revenue flows for the City. I see this similar to our current efforts to entice Amazon in setting up their second headquarters through tax and land incentives. As long as the Return on Investment (ROI) is positive then it makes sense. However, using tax dollars to simply subsidize private sports teams does not make sense and is not a good allocation of City resources. I would rather those dollars be spent on ensuring large infrastructure projects like the Green Line, which serve the majority of Calgarians, are fully built.


Question 3.1:

Recent research on Calgary’s City Council found that council spends nearly a quarter of its’ time meeting in private (in camera). Do you agree that this is too much time spent in private?

 

Answer 3.1 [Yes/No Only]:

Yes.


Question 3.2:

If so, what would you do to fix this? Which topics do you believe should be discussed behind closed doors and why?

 

Answer/Comments 3.2:

I believe the actions of some individuals on Council have ensured we spend too much time behind closed doors. Instead, as a Council, we need to focus on acting in the best interests of Calgarians and not focus on the betterment of our own interests.


Question 4.1:

From the $470,000 Blue Ring, to the $236,000 for a “Poop Palace”, and now another $500,000 for Bowfort Towers, council has consistently failed to engage with Calgarians about which public Art projects their tax dollars are spent on. Do you support continuing to use taxpayer dollars to fund art projects for the city?

 

Answer 4.1 [Yes/No Only]:

No. 


Question 4.2:

If yes, why do you think council and administration have repeatedly failed on this issue, and what guidelines should be used to ensure Calgarians are happy with the results in future?

 

Answer/Comments 4.2:

I recently brought forward a Notice of Motion to Council on this very item. During this tough economic downturn I would have liked to have limited the Art Fund to 0% but realize that would not have passed at Council. So, instead, I put forward a motion to freeze and alter the Art Funding policy. Although art does play a role in community development, and integration, the funding for it needs to make sense. These expensive, and highly controversial, art pieces need to end. 

My Notice of Motion, which passed unanimously, froze the current Art Funding policy and asked that the new policy:

 

>Take into account current economic conditions and limit spending accordingly

>Take into account citizen input, and;

>Ensure taxpayers feel respected and listened to.


Question 5:

How can council support small businesses?

 

Answer 5:

As holders of public office, we have an important role in helping to stabilize the economy, incentivise job creation and employment, and forge a path to a brighter economic future. There is a legitimate and important role for government here – but that means delivering actual results – a government that is focused on championing innovation and supporting existing small business.

Calgary today is in ‘recovery mode’ – the perfect time to reorient ourselves to ambitious task of getting further away from the uncertainty and pain – if not despair – of our cyclical economy – and focus on: bringing back local jobs in manufacturing and production, scientific and technical services and education, providing an investment-friendly climate to make everything happen. 

By doing so we will attract more capital, and more of the best minds from around the world, so that Calgary offers a competitive jurisdiction and functions as a ‘magnet’ to new businesses and investment. Focusing on innovation will not only lower costs and improve quality – but will bring new, 21st century jobs and industries to the city – making us known as leaders in the new economy – the economy of our children’s generation.

Most importantly, the City of Calgary needs to provide an environment for businesses to flourish. As part of this approach, we need to ensure that we have low business tax. Simply put, this means managing costs. Prior to raising taxes, City should demonstrate that it has spending under control. Raising taxes should not be a given. By better managing costs, we can deliver better core services to Calgarians and reduce the tax burden.

If re-elected, I will focus on ensuring strong fiscal management.  This includes:

 

>A budget freeze in 2018.

>Setting aggressive but realistic targets for cost reduction through supporting a Service and Solution based approach at the City.

>Setting utility rates that reflect actual costs and contain assessment to build reserves for ongoing maintenance of infrastructure and growth.

>Focus on cost efficiency over the long term.

 

Over 60% of Calgarians, based on recent polls, say that the economy in Calgary is bad – and almost 90% say that the City can play a big role in weathering these tough economic times. This requires a city that supports small business and provides the right environment for small business to thrive. Not a City that simply raises taxes to pay the ever increasing bills. This means a city that can continue to pride itself on individual accomplishment, and provides the environment to make that possible. We need to focus on the goals and original ideas of our hard-working Calgarians who are dedicated to improvement and able to identify, champion, and implement the kinds of actions and recommendations we have been given by organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, and Calgary Economic Development (CED).

CED, in its 10-year Economic Strategy has identified: 

 

>Increased investment;

>A bigger focus on growth industries;

>Increasing trade opportunities;

>Better position our city as western Canada’s #1 transportation and logistics hub;

>Increasing our involvement, and opportunity in the digital economy; and

>Capturing the opportunities in medical and bio-industrial development.

 

I am committed 100% to this vision, and the promise of opportunity that it represents for all Calgarians – today and into the future. I am also committed to continuing to work through the issues and recommendations that the Chamber of Commerce provided at the start of our current term:

 

>Fiscal prudence, and strictly limited spending – topping out on the basis of population growth and inflation;

>A budgeting framework that clearly and transparently identifies essential vs. discretionary spending;

>Stringent debt spending criteria and limits – this includes a commitment to ‘full-cost accounting’ for capital that incorporates ongoing operating expenses and needs;

>‘Zero-based’ budgeting reviews for every part of the City of Calgary’s operations and programs;

>Cutting red tape – in a way that requires us to eliminate at least 1 ‘old’ regulations or by-laws for every new one;

>Setting franchise fees for utilities – so that they only - clearly and transparently cover the true cost of delivery;

>Taking a hard look at property tax rates to ensure fairness – but more importantly – get away from the ‘death spiral’ of our current system – increasing the tax burden on this year’s ‘survivors’ (as we’ve seen constantly this year) – which then forces more and more of them out of business due to unsustainable costs – pushing the next group of business, tax-payers and employers over the fiscal cliff … all because we can’t get the votes on Council to cut spending, and live within our means!

 

Finally, we must strengthen Calgary’s position as a global commercial centre. This means strengthening partnerships with other levels of government, providing healthy supply of industrial land to support economic development and diversification, improving movement of people through new Rapid Transit Routes, working with industry to enhance movement of goods in major routes, cutting bureaucratic red tape, and improve attractiveness of Calgary’s City Centre:

 

Economic Diversification & Growth
>Focus on Transportation, Real Estate and Creative Industries

Support Partners & Business Revitalization Zones
>Support growth of Business Revitalization Zones
>Develop Streets as Places Policy
>Support Calgary’s businesses through trade missions, marketing campaigns and business development activities

Cut red tape and foster a competitive tax environment to help small business 
>Streamline admin services
>Work with partners and maximize fair entry to enable Calgarians to access programs

Create a more resilient economy
>Implement Economic strategy for Calgary

Promote a vibrant and prosperous downtown


Question 6.1:

Do you support the current plan for construction of the Green Line?

 

Answer 6.1 [Yes/No Only]:

Yes.


Question 6.2:

The construction of the Green Line was approved based on a cost-benefit analysis that assumed the project would be completed two years earlier than now projected, and at a lower construction cost for the entire line than is now estimated for half of the line. If the costs increase again or the project is further delayed, would you continue to support it, and why?

 

Answer/Comment 6.2:

The Green Line would be Alberta’s largest transit infrastructure project and we must implement and manage the asset in the most efficient and controlled manner. The City of Calgary must leverage all available/existing resources to ensure this project reaches its full potential. This includes collaborative work with both community and private sector resources.

Given the unprecedented potential of the Green Line, in terms of size, affect and visibility, The City of Calgary must position this infrastructure project to become the catalyst for unprecedented community development and revitalization. Given the scope and timeline of the project the City of Calgary must create positive community alignment and mitigate negative community impact.

The City of Calgary must ensure Transit Oriented Development associated with the Green Line is done in a manner that provides the greatest benefit to the majority of Calgarians (and to a lesser extent Albertans).

The Green Line represents an opportunity for the City of Calgary to address long term, and future, issues in a linear and comprehensive manner.


Question 7.1:

In July, City Council voted against a motion to hold a referendum/plebiscite on whether Calgary should bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics bid. Do you support holding a referendum / plebiscite on whether Calgary should bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics bid?

 

Answer 7.1 [Yes/No Only]:

Yes.


Question 7.2:

Why do you support/oppose a public vote? Should the results of a vote should be binding?

 

Answer/Comment 7.2:

I was the one who brought forward a Notice of Motion to Council in July asking for a plebiscite on this matter. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues did not believe Calgarians deserved a say on the Olympic bid and my motion was defeated. My motion was to direct Administration to create a 2017 Civic Election plebiscite question so that all Calgarians would have an opportunity to provide their feedback on whether they think, at this time (and given the 4+ billion dollar price tag) it would be prudent for the City to submit an application to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.  

It was my intention, in order to fully address the prudency question of the Olympic bid and to give the residents of Calgary, as a whole, during these tough economic times the opportunity to have their opinions heard. It was also my contention that an election plebiscite is one of the most efficient and effective methods of collecting city wide opinion.