This past week has been one of the busiest at City Hall in quite some time. There were a number of very big stories that have a large impact on Calgarians. Let’s have a quick review of the week:
Green Line Digs In
On Monday the Green Line team unveiled the early findings from their city centre public engagement. The City has proposed a number of different options on how the Green Line would connect the southeast leg to the north central leg.
The preferred option is to use a deep tunnel to get through the downtown. While this does come at a higher upfront cost ($500M more than any other option), it will have the least impact on existing infrastructure.
While the tunnel option could lead to savings down the road, it may have an impact on the length of the project in the initial construction phase. With a set budget, the most expensive option through the downtown means that we may not be able to build out fully to the terminus points in the north and southeast. Currently Council direction requires that the Green Line LRT include access to the downtown and the maintenance facility. The maintenance facility will be located at Shepard Station by 130th Avenue SE.
More information will be coming to Council over the next few months.
Property Tax Increase
The Government of Alberta released their budget on April 14. Over the last week The City has been working diligently to identify what impacts this budget will have on local governments. One item that has been identified is a sizable property tax increase by the provincial government.
Your property tax bill is broken into two components. Roughly 60% of your bill goes to The City while roughly 40% goes to the province. The City collects property taxes on behalf of the province, and the province sends in a requisition once their budget is confirmed.
For the 2016 tax year, Calgarians saw a 3.5% increase from The City on their property taxes. The City typically estimates that the province will have a matching increase, and more often than not this holds true. This year the province has taken roughly a 10% increase, nearly three-times what we had anticipated. The 10% increase from the province and the 3.5% increase from The City translates into roughly a 6% increase on your tax bill.
The province has decided to increase the cost of education to be paid for by the property tax. For 2016/17 the province indicated they will collect about $2.414B in education property taxes which is roughly an increase of $153M from 2015/16 (a 6.8% increase).
Unfortunately we had very little notice that the province was considering an increase of this size. The province can ask for an increase on their property tax portion, and The City is unable to refuse them. Premier Notley has suggested the increase on Calgarians taxes is not an increase in the rate, but rather an increase in the assessed value of Calgary homes. Having looked at the impacts on Calgary home values during these difficult economic times, I’m not sure I agree with that explanation.
Council will be making a decision in June on what to do with a surplus that was identified in the 2015 City of Calgary operating budget. Returning the surplus to tax payers certainly is an option, especially in the face of a hefty increase from the provincial government.
Committee Sets a Record
I currently serve as the chair for the Standing Policy Committee on Transportation and Transit. On Wednesday we set a new record for the longest committee meeting. We kicked things off at 9:30am and didn’t hit the final gavel until nearly midnight.
There were a number of high profile items on the agenda:
Pedestrian Strategy – This transportation plans outlines some recommendations that could make Calgary’s streets safer for pedestrians. The most notable recommendation is lowering the un-posted speed limit in residential streets from 50km/h to 40km/h. The committee directed administration to carry out extensive public consultation to see if there is a public appetite for this kind of change.
BRT Update – Calgary Transit’s 30 year capital plan, RouteAhead, shows the top transit infrastructure priorities for Calgary. You can read more about RouteAhead here: https://www.calgarytransit.com/plans-projects/plans.
An integral part of that plan is the Calgary Bus Rapid Transit (or BRT) network. Some BRTs already exist in Calgary, like the 302 that serves southeast Calgary. This plan outlines opportunities for additional BRT service, and in some cases constructs independent transit-only lanes to allow for faster and more reliable transit service.
The SW BRT has emerged as one of the highest profile projects in the BRT network. Groups of residents in support and opposition of the project have expressed their views very vocally. Individuals from these groups spoke before committee on Wednesday. There were a lot of very valid points and questions raised. Administration has recorded the questions asked at committee and will be providing a response by no later than July.
What’s Next for Calgary NEXT?
On August 18, 2015, Calgary Sports & Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) revealed a proposed concept for a new arena project. The proposal was a hybrid of public and private dollars to build a state of the art facility in an area to the west of downtown known as the West Village.
In November of 2015 Council requested The City explore the feasibility of the West Village site. CSEC initially estimated that the facility would cost roughly $890M. While I do feel this figure is an accurate estimate, it does not take into consideration many of the ancillary costs that would be associated with making this site feasible. Some of these additional costs include transportation network upgrades and environmental remediation of the long standing creosote contamination.
On Monday Council will be presented with a report from The City that outlines the feasibility of the West Village. The early figures suggest that the total cost of the facility and associated costs could be as high as $1.8B with as much as two-thirds being paid for by public dollars. The recommendation in this report suggests that the West Village site is not feasible.
I am looking forward to a robust discussion by Council on this report on Council. If we are going to be dedicating public dollars to major projects, we need to make sure we are selecting the right projects. Public funds need to used for public benefit, and it could be argued that this new facility only has marginal public benefit.
The creosote contamination is something that Council will need to discuss in further detail. It is not in the best interests of this great city to have a large section of our inner city core undeveloped on blighted land. East Village is a great example of how we can transform blighted land into a thriving inner city redevelopment. West Village could be the same, but we need to address the current conditions.
You can find out more about Calgary NEXT and see a copy of the report by visiting: http://www.calgary.ca/General/Pages/CalgaryNEXT.aspx