Calgary city council meets on Monday to discuss possible changes to the 2022 budget, and some are saying maintaining a zero increase in the tax rate will be increasingly difficult.
As the budget adjustment process for 2022 gets underway on Monday with 11 new councillors at the table, they’ll be facing some old problems, including less revenue.
“The costs are something they’ve tried to curtail for years now. The fact that revenue has diminished so dramatically, both because of property taxes and because the provincial government is taking a bigger share of those taxes, has meant that the challenges facing this new council are going to be huge,” said Lori Williams, Mount Royal University associate professor of policy studies.
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City officials said in May that they’re aiming to hold the property tax rate flat in 2022, but Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra isn’t holding out much hope for that, in part because of salaries.
Carra said it’s going to be hard to say no to city employee wage increases after the province in October reached a deal with 22,000 members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which included a 1.25 per cent wage increase in 2023.
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“We are not really going to be in a position to argue otherwise. I think we were planning on everyone holding, and it doesn’t look like that is going to be the case now,” Carra said on Sunday.
“They gave a necessary increase to the unions, and there’s no way our city government is going to be able to negotiate otherwise.”
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Carra said the city’s current position, where spending hasn’t kept up with inflation and population growth for many years, isn’t sustainable.
“We have a world-class park system, but we are keeping it alive on life-support with the budget we are putting into it. I hear all the time, ‘I want this, and I need this,’ and that takes money. We hear that about snow and ice control, and we have also been grinding our emergency response downwards,” Carra said.
“I do not believe there is any room to cut without seeing real front-line service implications.”
City council cut this year’s property taxes by 1.7 per cent.
Last year’s budget adjustments included about $90 million in cuts.
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“We are at the point where if we want to build a better city, we need to invest in that city. We are not going to cut ourselves to the prosperity we deserve,” Carra said.
The city will start a new four-year budget cycle next year.
“You are going to start to get a sense of the values of this council and the kind of city this council wants to build and the kind of city that Calgarians want this budget cycle. But it’s just going to be a taste,” Carra said.
“You’re going to see what the budget is really about and what the business plan is really about and the kind of city we want to build in the next budget cycle.”
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