COUNCIL NEEDS TO START LIVING IN REAL WORLD
Members attack Farkas for tax freeze idea, but councillor calls 7.5% hike ‘reckless’
There’s a serious disconnect with Calgary city council from the reality of Calgarians.
After five years of recession in Alberta followed by plummeting oil prices, massive layoffs and then the COVID-19 lockdown — which led to even more layoffs and further plunges in oil prices — Calgarians have been hit with a 7.5 per cent property tax rate increase.
For my family, our property tax increase is 18.3 per cent — from $383 per month to $453.
Our family’s tax increase of $70 per month — or $840 per year — is happening even though the assessed value of our home dropped this past year by $15,500. Go figure.
Like many other Calgarians, I have taken a salary decrease during these crazy COVID times. Many people have lost their jobs outright and are facing a very uncertain future and therefore have enacted tough fiscal decisions along with serious belt-tightening.
These realities are seemingly ignored by council and when addressed, the councillors who try to fix the situation are derided and called names.
What’s more, the April 27 letter Mayor Naheed Nenshi sent along with our tax bills is questionable.
“Your City Council has kept your taxes to below inflation and population growth since the beginning of this latest downturn in 2014, and has identified over $740 million in cuts and savings to our budget, savings we have passed on to the taxpayer,” wrote Nenshi.
“That is false,” says Franco Terrazzano, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“Firstly, residential property taxes have increased by 22 per cent while inflation and population growth has increased by 16 per cent since 2014,” says Terrazzano.
“Taxpayers would have saved $216 million during that time had residential property taxes only increased with inflation plus population growth,” said Terrazzano.
“Every single year since 2014, the city’s budget has grown, so claiming cuts of $740 million is false,” adds Terrazzano.
Mayor Nenshi was not available to respond to these specific questions about his letter to Calgarians.
Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas calls the mayor’s letter a “pipe dream.”
“It’s kind of like planning for a large increase then adopting a more modest one and calling the difference a cut,” says Farkas.
“It’s like a family saying that they’re going to buy a Lamborghini but instead buy a Corvette and then saying that they saved money by making the purchase. That kind of logic only works at city hall. That’s not a cut in the real world.”
Exactly. It’s a change in plans from spending a lot to spending less.
Back on April 6, Farkas put forward an amendment that would have frozen taxes.
After pointing out how much Calgarians are suffering, Farkas said: “We do have the ability to lessen the blow. There is an alternative to this increase. We have some money to work with from areas that Calgarians have told us should not be a priority at this time.
“Firstly, the rainy day fund, the public art account and the corporate welfare slush fund. We can apply the money now and really get to sharpening our pencils for the upcoming budget cycle,” recommended Farkas.
“This increase was reckless and irresponsible before the COVID situation and before the crash in oil prices. If council passes this 7.5 per cent increase in the worst economic crisis Calgary has faced in 100 years, I believe it will be the epitome of incompetence and dereliction of duty … if we ram through a back-breaking tax increase, at the same time that many of our citizens are fighting for their livelihoods and their lives,” he said.
Strong words, to be sure.
Sean Chu was the only other city councillor to back Farkas’ amendment.
Others just attacked Farkas. Nenshi said Farkas’ words were “disgusting.” You can watch the entire exchange on the city’s website.
“To attempt to use the emergency as a platform … to use inflammatory language to talk about what Calgarians have told us, and Calgarians have said no such thing,” said Nenshi. Clearly he’s being sheltered.
“This is the epitome of bad behaviour … of what politicians should not be doing in an emergency like this, to say we’re ramming something through that we had a week and a half of debate on in November, and it passed,” said Nenshi. He then asked an administrative staffer how much the 7.5 per cent increase would cost the average homeowner.
“Twenty dollars more per month. Which is back-breaking, which is going to kill people who are already in poverty. That is disgusting. What we need to do is help people who are in poverty,” said Nenshi.
Coun. Evan Woolley said Farkas was engaged in “political profiteering” and it is “unbelievably shameful.”
Ward Sutherland said Farkas had a “limited skill set.” Coun. Jyoti Gondek chastised Farkas, while Coun. Jeff Davison said Farkas’ amendment was “foolish” and “shameful.”
It was an old fashioned, albeit a virtual, piling on.
What’s really foolish, shameful, disgusting and evidence of a limited skill set is that Calgary city council passed a 7.5 per cent tax increase during an unprecedented economic crisis in which thousands of citizens are losing their jobs.
The extra $840 my husband and I will pay this year in property taxes to the city will not break our backs. We are grateful for that. But for seniors living on a fixed income or young families where one or both parents have lost their jobs, it very well might. It certainly won’t help.
Real cutting is hard. It takes creativity and can be wrenching, but most Calgarians are doing just that.
Just once, it would be refreshing to see this council having to live in the real world where their constituents live.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he and council have kept property tax hikes below inflation and population growth since 2014, but critics aren’t buying it.