Calgary council gives temporary reprieve to Shepard residents facing 40% hike in property taxes
Most Calgarians are facing a 3.6 per cent hike on their property taxes this year — that is, unless you live in Shepard, about 20 minutes southeast of downtown, where residents are bracing for a 40 per cent increase.
The area was annexed by the City of Calgary in 2007, and as part of the agreement, residents were given a 15-year reprieve before switching from tax rates set by Rocky View County — their previous municipality — to Calgary tax rates.
On Tuesday, city council decided to give property owners in areas annexed in 2007 a temporary break, phasing in the new rate.
"A lot of these folks are on a fixed income … this is allowing them to adjust to the new reality and make good decisions instead of just getting hit with the full weight of the tax change here this year," said Coun. Evan Spencer, who represents the area.
Even though residents knew the increase was coming, they weren't expecting it to be quite as large, said Dave Heaven, president of the Shepard Community Association.
"It's a little hard to swallow," he said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.
"We finally found out this January that it would be going up 40 per cent, so that's quite a surprise."
Calgary city council decided in an 8-7 decision this week it would cancel 75 per cent of the municipal tax differential for eligible residential properties this year. In 2023, they will consider another credit of 50 per cent, and then 25 per cent the following year.
"At least we got some concession out of it. Not everything that we wanted, but you never do," Heaven said.
Spencer said some of his fellow councillors had concerns the move would set a precedent for similar situations in the future, but he argued Shepard residents deserve some leniency because of a fairly controversial, 15-year-old misunderstanding.
The question of clean water
Although not explicitly written in the annexation agreement, Spencer said, many Shepard residents and some city staff believed the annexation would lead to water and sewer services being delivered to the hamlet.
Residents receive access to other city services, but to this day, most residences in the area use water wells or cisterns. Heaven said a lot of those are contaminated.
"You should have clean drinking water, and that kind of stuff is just a given in our society. But we don't have that here, and there's no sense of even wanting to help us with it on the city side," he said.
According to Spencer, the wording of the annexation order may have been a bit misleading.
"It didn't straight up lie. It just painted a very summery picture about what they might be able to expect in terms of when they would get service," he said.
Calgary was expanding quickly in 2007, and Spencer said city officials thought new developments would spring up in the Shepard area, bringing water and sewer services with them.
The city can't pay to extend those pipes, he said, as water and sewer services are supported by user fees, not taxes.
"The city will never set [that precedent] in terms of servicing properties that are annexed … it's not fair to the rest of Calgarians to have to foot that bill," he said.
To recognize their part in creating those false expectations, Spencer implored his colleagues to give Shepard residents a break on their property tax rates.
"Now this resets that expectation moving forward," he said.
Although he appreciates the gesture, Heaven said Shepard residents still aren't convinced they're getting a fair deal.
"We were opposed to the annexation to start with," he said.
"The city has a timeline that they get to follow. But what about the timeline for us? We're just left aside and forgotten about."
At 71, Heaven has spent his entire life in Shepard and has a farm there today, so he doesn't plan to leave.
With no developments for the area on the horizon, he expects the community will take its plight to the province.
"I think we deserve the same as everybody else in the city of Calgary, at least clean drinking water."
The city will mail out tax bills at the end of May. Property taxes are due by June 30 for those who are not on the city's monthly instalment plan.