$52 million

On July 28, 2013, I voted for the much-discussed ‘give it back’ option. If passed this would have returned the $52 million of absorbed tax room to Calgary homeowners in the form of a property tax break of approximately $126 per year for a home based on the median value in Calgary of $410,000. As feared, the unsuccessful motion was defeated by a 9-5 vote.

Councillors who voted to ‘give it back’:

·        Shane Keating

·        Dianne Colley-Urquhart

·        Peter Demong

·        Andre Chabot

·        Ray Jones

I was, however, able to amend Mayor Nenshi’s Notice of Motion to combine the provincial “tax room” collected in 2013 with another $52 million budgeted for next year.  This would have committed $104 million to use toward flood mitigation and prevention without knowing what the insurance companies and the provincial and federal governments intend to cover, and without knowing the cost to rebuild the infrastructure of our Civic Partners or whether they have insurance to help cover restoration. In addition to this, the City maintains a $295 million reserve fund to cover the costs of such disasters as the flood.  This weakens the position of my colleagues on Council when they argue that the $52 million was needed to make up the discrepancy in insurance and government support.  

My amendment forged a compromise by limiting Council to the tax room already collected for 2013, and until we know which piece of the pie the city is responsible for, we cannot ear-mark more provincial tax room toward the flood recovery. More importantly, the amendment allows for the future fate of the 2014 tax room and beyond to remain open during the budget deliberations in November, making the matter an election issue when Calgarians go to the polls on October 21, 2013.  This will give my colleagues on council the opportunity to talk to taxpayers and directly ask them what they want done with the tax room in years going forward. It also gives City Administration time to prepare a report on any flood-related costs the province and federal government intend to not cover.  This report will be prepared for a “new” council, one that can decide after the election to ‘give it back’.
Here is a timeline leading to the decision on whether we should ‘give it back’ or put the tax room toward rebuilding city infrastructure wrecked by the June 2013 flood:

  •  In 2010, City Council passed a motion to absorb all future taxes left by the Provincial Government property tax. I was one of a handful of Alderman to voice my concerns about the absence of an acceptable process and procedure on how council chooses to soak up these taxes.  
  •  The unused tax room was $42 million in 2011 which Council voted to use toward the provision of 4 new recreation centres. In this case, City Council identified a desperate area of need and acted accordingly.
  •  In 2013, the Alberta government asked for $632 million instead of the city’s estimate of $684 million. Council discovered they had an unexpected $52 million of taxpayer money. 
  • Earlier this year, Council undertook a two-week public consultation on how to spend the $52 million. People were asked to decide between five options—transit, improving neighbourhood sidewalks, pay down the debt, lower business taxes, and refund the money. As a strong proponent of the SE LRT, my natural choice was to use the tax room for transit, however, after Calgarians overwhelmingly asked Council to ‘give it back’, I felt this was the best option.
  • Mayor Nenshi put forth a motion to devote two years of provincial tax room to flood recovery and mitigation.