Calgary Herald


Tweaking mill rate a sensible strategy for growth, Michael K. Mauws writes.

- Michael K. Mauws is a professor of business policy and strategy at Athabasca University. He and his two children have lived in the Marda Loop area since their arrival in Calgary in 2012.

The City of Calgary's proposed changes to zoning laws are a poor solution to an undeniable problem. Anyone who is the least bit objective can see that more houses are needed for those who want to live in this amazing city. And anyone who understand­s the true costs of urban sprawl can also understand that increasing housing density within city limits is a big part of the solution. But most would also agree that a housing free-for-all is not the solution, particular­ly when better options are available.

The main problem with the city's proposed solution is that it in no way accounts for people's differing desires and differing financial situations. In essence, it is a declaratio­n that no one should be allowed to live in a low-density neighbourh­ood, regardless of their preference­s or wealth. It says that all Calgarians should live in similar neighbourh­oods.

The simpler and far superior solution is to make people pay for the privilege of living in low-density areas. More specifical­ly, the solution is a residentia­l mill rate that fluctuates based on density.

Consider that, at present, Calgary homeowners pay annual taxes equal to roughly 0.66 per cent of the value of their home. This is true whether one lives in the Beltline, which has more than 8,500 people per square kilometre, or in Pump Hill, which has only 1,800 people in the same space.

If the goal (which I support) is to increase density of the city as a whole, the sensible way to do this is to adjust the mill rate for density. For example, if the mill rate was based on Calgary's average residentia­l mill rate (0.66 per cent) divided by density and multiplied by 3,000, Beltline residents would pay annual taxes equal to 0.23 per cent of their home's value, whereas those in Pump Hill would pay 1.1 per cent of their home's value.

Some will argue that the residents of Calgary's more affluent areas are already paying higher taxes. This is true. But in most cases, that reflects the size and location of their homes.

What it doesn't reflect is the additional costs to the city to service low-density areas.

Low-density areas require many more metres of roads, sidewalks, sewer and water lines, and whatever else is buried under our streets. Collecting trash in these neighbourh­oods is far less efficient than in high-density areas, as is the provision of transit. In brief, the per-person cost of providing services to low-density areas is much higher than it is in high-density areas. At present, this is not reflected in people's property taxes. But if the mill rate is based on density, it will be.

But the most important advantage of a solution like this is it allows Calgary to continue offering a diverse range of housing alternativ­es while still promoting greater density. It is also worth noting that it makes it possible for existing residents to decide how their communitie­s will be zoned: if their taxes are too high, they can ask to have the zoning changed.

Let's face it: there will always be Calgarians who want to live in a low-density community, so let's not stop them. Instead, let's ask them to subsidize those who live in the high-density areas that make Calgary the vibrant and exciting city that it is.

Granted, additional research would be required to determine the actual formula. As well, the province would have to get involved since it has jurisdicti­on over municipal taxation.

But this additional work is justified when the alternativ­e is a heavy-handed solution that threatens to paint all of Calgary's colourful communitie­s a similar shade of grey.

A tag line is like the hood ornament on a vehicle. It's an emblem, with a lot of research, insight-gathering and creativity behind it. You never know what you're going to uncover and how it will influence the brand-building process. Steve Williams

 ?? BRENT CALVER ?? Blanket rezoning overlooks people's differing neighbourh­ood desires and financial situations, Michael K. Mauws writes.
BRENT CALVER Blanket rezoning overlooks people's differing neighbourh­ood desires and financial situations, Michael K. Mauws writes.

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