Calgary’s elected officials will soon debate what to do with $23.7 million of so-called “tax room” that’s landed on the table because this year’s provincial tax request is lower than anticipated.
While a report scheduled to go to council Monday states $23.7 million is “available for the city to fund various critical initiatives if council so chooses,” there appears to be little appetite among councillors to absorb the money indefinitely — a move that would result in a minor property tax increase for homeowners in an election year.
“At the end of the day, if we take what is viewed as a tax relinquishment the net effect is we’re taxing Calgarians $23 million more than we said we would because we don’t control what the province asks,” said Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot.
“If we take that $23 million, our (property taxes) go up.”
Coun. Andre Chabot
While Calgary’s city council unanimously approved an effective tax freeze in November, by dipping into the rainy-day fund to offset a 1.5 per cent property tax hike, the overall change in taxes is always dependent on the province setting its portion of the city tax bill, called the education property tax, in its spring budget.
Occasionally, as is the case this year, the province takes less education tax than what the city budgeted for, leaving what’s known as tax room — funds that were grabbed by the city from 2011 until 2013, when council rescinded a motion that saw the city automatically absorb the money offered by the province.
In 2013, $52 million in tax room became part of the city’s tax base indefinitely and following a heated debate and even a reality-TV style event, council narrowly approved spending the money on the Green Line LRT for ten years. In 2011, a $42 million tax room increase helped fund a library, recreation centres and other projects.
Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating, who voted against the 2011 decision to collect any extra property taxes if the province lowered its requisition, said he plans to go into next week’s debate about the $23.7 million with an open mind.
“I’ll wait for the discussion,” he said, adding the tough times facing may Calgarians will be top of mind. “I’m keenly aware that people may need every dollar they can get.”
Ward 11 Coun. Brian Pincott LORRAINE HJALTE / CALGARY HERALD
Ward 11 Coun. Brian Pincott said he’s opposed to taking the $23.7 million in tax room.
“I like that if we are going to take the tax room, we actually have a plan for it before we take it,” said Pincott. “We haven’t identified any major need at this point that we should jump in and do.”
Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu, who prides himself on being fiscally conservative, said he believes the looming October municipal election means council won’t do anything to raise citizen’s taxes when the matter comes before them next week.
“I think we should have an election every year so everyone always turns into a fiscal conservative,” Chu said.
According to the report on 2017 property tax scheduled to go before council Monday, this year’s effective municipal tax freeze will see the typical Calgary house face an annual $7 decrease in property taxes, assuming council chooses not to take the $23.7 million in available tax room.
The 2017 combined property tax rate increase is set at 0.7 per cent (made up of 1.5 per cent on the municipal side and -0.6 per cent for the province’s portion) and without the one-time 1.5 per cent property tax rebate approved in November, the typical Calgary homeowner would have been on the hook for a $20 property tax increase.
Non-residential tax bills are set to increase 0.4 per cent this year.
Last year, the average homeowner faced a $169.80 hit to the wallet when property tax bills were mailed out, a 6.1 per cent jump over the previous year that was largely blamed on the province increasing its annual property tax requisition. Non-residential tax bills increased 3.8 per cent in 2016.