BY RICK BELL, CALGARY SUN
You've been played. You've been screwed. You've been had.
Calgary, you've been taken for a ride.
But it won't happen until AFTER the election this October.
The smart money never figured these no-one-can-touch-us-so-we-can-do-what-we-damn-well-please tax grabbers at city hall would pull off this latest shell game where, once again, you end up being the loser.
The smart folks thought the city council big spenders, who believe taxpayers are an ATM for their own use, wouldn't stoop so low and take another tax break from the province while at the same time making it look like they were somehow doing you a favour.
Especially not in an election year.
But they did.
Here is how it went down.
On Monday night, after supper and following two hours of scheming behind closed doors, a slim majority of those present on city council had a plan.
The Notley NDP left almost $24 million on the table after taking their share of property tax cash.
This dough was supposed to go back to you — this year and every year.
What happened instead? City council decided to give you the province's tax break this year and take it away next year.
After the election.
It's the same reasoning behind giving you a small rebate on your property tax bill this year by taking money from the city's rainy-day fund.
By doing both these things, the final tab on your tax bill this year should be more or less the same as last year.
But, in 2018, after the election, you will not get the tax break from the province.
And there's no rebate on your taxes.
The result? In 2018, after this fall's election, you will start off with a 3% tax hike even before council increases your taxes for 2018.
Subject to a green light from city council, your tax increase for 2018 is pegged at 4.7%.
Do the addition.
"It was a big smoke and mirror game," says Coun. Andre Chabot, who is running against Nenshi for the mayor's job.
"Next year is when Calgarians are really going to see it," says Chabot, who doesn't like the games being played in the big blue playpen.
"If you need something, be upfront about it. Don't play these smoke and mirror games to confuse people."
Chabot says it reminds him of the infamous $52 million tax break, where city council gave it back for only one year and now takes the annual break every year.
"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," says Chabot.
Shame on us.
Chabot says he would like city council to reconsider this latest cash grab. But will enough people bellyache to push the issue?
For the record, this was the vote. Please take down the names.
Those in favour of taking your money. CARRA, COLLEY-URQUHART, FARRELL, KEATING, PINCOTT, WOOLLEY, NENSHI.
Against taking your money. CHABOT, CHU, DEMONG, MAGLIOCCA, POOTMANS, SUTHERLAND.
Coun. Sean Chu says when he saw what was going on at council Monday night he thought: "How can they do this to people? I felt really, really crappy. It was unbelievable."
He doesn't buy the argument it's nothing to sweat over. It's only a small amount of money.
This is what is said every time council takes what isn't theirs, and these so-called small amounts of money soon add up to a big amount of money.
You know the old saying, look after the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.
Besides, in principle, it is the people's money. Period.
Then again, this is a city council trumpeting a big LRT line from the far north of the city to the deep south. The only problem. They don't have anywhere the dollars to cover the billions in costs.
So city council scrambles, picking the pockets of beleaguered city taxpayers again.
As usual, city council counts on Calgarians remaining in a deep, deep sleep.
Chu isn't asleep. This is not a bad dream where you can wake up. It's all very real.
"I'm still shaking my head," says Chu.
So are we, councillor. So are we.