Calgary city councilors will begin debating changes to the proposed four-year budget, with some councilors indicating they will look at changes to address affordability.
That indication comes after a lengthy public hearing in which 128 Calgarians lined up to give their feedback on the 2023-2026 budget; 153 in total, including the speakers from civil partner organizations on Monday.
While not many citizens were critical of the proposed property tax increase next year, some raised concerns about inflation and rising costs.
“I feel like we can do better,” Andrew Kaiser told Global News after speaking to the council. “Perhaps for every dollar spent, the council should be forced to find a dollar in savings.”
The proposed budget calls for an overall property tax increase of 4.4 percent in 2023; followed by an average tax increase of 3.7 percent the remaining years of the budget.
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City officials said next year’s increase is equivalent to $10 a month more for the average Calgary homeowner.
“Affordability is more than not being able to afford $10 a month, it’s also the compounding effect of every other cost to a homeowner and citizen,” Ward 1 Councilwoman Sonya Sharp said.
According to budget documents, household spending in Calgary is forecast to increase 7.1 per cent this year amid inflationary pressures.
“It feels very unequal. The prices at the gas pump and in the grocery stores, in particular, are significantly more than that,” said Brian Trafford, chief investment officer at CH Financial.
“We hear stories of 10 to 15 percent. These are very large numbers, and if they continue like this, it’s obviously going to become a big, big concern.”
In response, the city council asked the administration to build the budget with a limit to keep spending below the rate of inflation and population growth.
However, municipalities across the province are also feeling the pressure of inflation and are also proposing property tax increases in their upcoming budgets.
Cathy Heron, the mayor of St. Albert and the president of Alberta municipalities, called the situation “a perfect storm” of inflation, ongoing impacts on revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic and offloading costs from the province.
Heron added that years of tax increases falling below the cost of living have also caught up with many Alberta cities.
“It’s province-wide, and it’s probably a national issue,” Heron told Global News. “This is not an issue that is the result of mismanagement of funds or inefficiency.”
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Sharp told reporters during a break in Wednesday’s council meeting that she is exploring using reserves to offset the proposed property tax increase.
“Reserves have parameters around them and rules, and terms of reference, so I ask questions. What can we use the money for?” Sharp said. “One of the speakers this morning spoke about the amount of money that comes from the planning and development reserve.
“I ask questions like, ‘What else can we do with the rest of the $97 million that’s there?'”
Meanwhile, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she heard during the public hearing that transportation is “an overwhelming concern and an issue” for Calgarians.
Transit fares, including low-income passes, will see increases in the proposed budget. But Gondek said there are some council members who are considering keeping those rates at current levels.
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Premier Danielle Smith announced several financial relief measures she would introduce for Albertans during a televised address Tuesday night, including investments in low-income transit passes.
“I don’t know how quickly the prime minister will be able to tell us what she’s willing to do — what her government is willing to do — on low-income transit passes,” Gondek said. “There is still a huge burden of responsibility on this council to act.
“I and many of my colleagues are at least interested in freezing rates.”
Budget discussions continue on Thursday with councilors presenting their amendments before the four-year plan is finalized later this week.
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