The $23.7M Question

Election campaigns are a great time for Calgarians to hear where candidates stand on the issues. But it’s also a time for listening – as one resident told me over the weekend “we have two ears and one mouth for a reason”. Campaigns are also a time for the majority to be heard. Outside of an election cycle, elected officials often hear from a very vocal minority on any number of issues. Getting out on the doors and talking with residents is the best way to figure out where public opinion really lies.

In the past, I have used election campaigns to seek guidance from Ward 12 residents on what they would like their Councillor to advocate for. It is your money after all, you should have a say in how it is being used.

During the 2013 election campaign the key issue was the $52M question –
Your property taxes are made up of a municipal and provincial portion. The City collects on behalf of both. The City sets their budget in November and estimates what the province will take once they set a budget in March. In some situations, the province will take less than what The City estimates, which creates something called “tax room” (the tax room in 2013 was $52M built into the tax base).

Prior to 2013 Council had a policy that saw any tax room automatically absorbed into The City’s budget. There was no debate, no discussion – it just happened automatically. I was very clear that I could not support that policy. If the choice was automatic absorption into the budget or give it back to Calgarians, Council should choose to give it back. But what if that policy could be changed? If we could amend the policy and allow for a debate on what to do with the tax room – what would residents want to see?

I took that question to the doors in 2013 – if the policy could change, what would residents in Ward 12 want to see? Would they like to see those funds returned to taxpayers, or should they be taken by The City and invested in transportation and transit upgrades? I spoke with thousands of residents during that campaign and 73% of them said that the $52M should be invested in transit and transportation. The majority had spoken.

I was fortunate enough to be re-elected in 2013 and immediately got to work to accomplish what the majority of Ward 12 residents wanted to see. I brought in a motion that changed the tax room policy. Under the new policy, Council had to debate what to do with the tax room in public. The tax room could be absorbed by The City, it could be given back to Calgarians or it could be invested in a specific project for a defined period. The decision would no longer be made automatically as the previous policy had directed.

Once the policy was changed I brought forward a motion to secure the $52M for the SETWAY – the precursor to the Green Line LRT. Initially we moved to dedicate $52M annually for 10 years to start funding Green Line. We used those funds to attract further investments from the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta. We also agreed to extend the $52M commitment from 10 years to 30 years to secure $1.56B for the Green Line.

To this day I reflect on these decisions as the most important ones that have been made during my time on Council. Changing the tax room policy and securing the $52M for the Green Line set a process in motion that will ultimately deliver a project that residents in southeast and north-central Calgary are desperate for.

So now let’s fast forward to 2017. This year the province has left $23.7M in tax room. Council decided earlier this year that the tax room would be rebated to Calgarians for 2017 and that a longer-term decision on the $23.7M would need to be made by Council during budget deliberations in the fall. Now it’s not an issue that is getting as much attention as the $52M debate in 2013, but it’s still an important decision that Calgarians need to be heard on.

Over the last number of months my team and I have been out on the doors in Ward 12 asking a new tax room question. We have $23.7M in tax room that will need to be allocated, so what should be done? On one hand, we have an economic downturn with many Calgarians struggling to make ends meet. On the other hand, we have a critical piece of infrastructure that is going to require more funding to get to where it needs to go.

So here are two possibilities that I could support:

  • The City not take the $23.7M and give it back to taxpayers permanently. This would equate to roughly a $7 reduction annually for each household’s property taxes.
  • The City take the $23.7M over a specified period and dedicate it to the Green Line LRT to allow for the line to extend further in Stage 1 or fund development of Stage 2.

It’s your money, so I’d like to hear what the residents of Ward 12 think. If I am fortunate enough to be re-elected on October 16, I will either support or sponsor a motion that reflects what the majority of Ward 12 residents want to see.

I’d like to hear from as many people as possible,
so please let me know what you think HERE.