How city hall can cut your taxes
City council finally seems to be getting the message loud and clear – Calgary families are hurting and can’t afford more property tax hikes.
If you haven’t contacted your councillor yet, now is the time to give them a call or send them an email. Next week, council will decide if there’s a property tax increase, freeze or cut next year. It’s more important than ever for you to speak out and keep driving home the message.
Here is some ammunition that you can use when you contact your councillor (or the mayor) and urge them to reduce property taxes:
First, remind them that for nine straight years, council has raised property taxes above the rate of inflation. Since 2008, Council has raised property taxes by about 72 per cent, yet inflation has only been about 15 per cent in Calgary over the same period. With revenues continuing to roll in at record levels, city hall should be able to deliver at least a five per cent tax cut. (Note: last year council ended up with an $86 million surplus.)
Now that we know city hall has the financial flexibility to reduce taxes, the question is “what to cut?” Council should approach the situation just like Calgary households respond when times get tough; cancelling overseas vacations, curtailing other “nice to have” items and focussing on household priorities. Now is the time for the City of Calgary to do the same.
The city should immediately scrap plans to spend money on things like the $470,000 big blue hoop piece of artwork they put up a few years ago or the $246,000 they recently spent on decorating a sewage shed with colourful lights. Now is the time for council to focus on the city’s most important services – policing, fixing roads, and sewage pipes to name a few.
Third, council should explore having the private sector deliver services. Across Canada, governments have saved a fortune by having private businesses perform services instead of using government employees.
For instance, in 2006, the City of Winnipeg hired a private company to handle residential garbage pick up in a section of the city that still had city employees doing the work. After partnering with the company, not only did costs go down (by 36 per cent), so did complaints; they dropped by 20 per cent. Thus, taxpayers received a better service at a lower cost.
At the City of Calgary, there are all kinds of services that could be performed by the private sector to save taxpayers money. Whether we’re talking about the management of city-owned fitness centres and golf courses to maintaining city parks, it’s definitely worth shopping around to see if costs could be reduced.
Finally, the city should cut the salaries and benefits of its employees and council. Across Calgary, people have lost their jobs and have received pay reductions. Why should city employees and members of city council be exempt from feeling the pinch? They shouldn’t.
Again, City Council is on the run. If you want a tax reduction this year, be sure to call your councillor and speak out.
Colin Craig works for the Manning Centre and is the author of The Government Wears Prada
This column was published in the Calgary Sun on June 23, 2016