City of Calgary says it seeks balance with proposed 4.4% property tax hike, rate increases

Calgary released its proposed four-year budget plan this morning. It will now go on to a week-long debate starting Nov. 21. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Calgary released its proposed four-year budget plan this morning. It will now go on to a week-long debate starting Nov. 21. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The city released recommendations for its four-year budget cycle on Tuesday, proposing a 4.4 per cent property tax rate increase for 2023, with an ask of residents to pay a little more for a boost to services like police, fire and transit.

But in an environment in which many Calgarians have been struggling to manage the continued pressures of inflation, the cost of most interactions citizens will have with the city are also proposed to go higher, including transit fares, business license fees and even how much it costs to die.

City council will make possible changes during a week-long debate, which starts Nov. 21. Calgarians can provide feedback on Nov. 22.

Council had previously directed administration to limit property tax increases to something below the rate of inflation plus population growth. The city's chief financial officer had suggested in July that a 4.4 per cent increase could be in play.

Speaking to reporters after the budget was released, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said administration had respected the wishes of council.

"I'm incredibly impressed that the team was able to come back within that budget envelope," Gondek said.

"We've heard from our general managers, we've heard from our CFO, that Calgarians can continue to expect a strong level of service, with a lot of respect for the fact that we're just coming out of a recession and times are tough for some folks."

LISTEN | Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp speaks about the proposed budget:

Tax and rate increases

Property taxes are proposed to increase by 4.4 per cent in 2023, and at an average of 3.7 per cent annually over four years, although council can revise that number each November during budget deliberations.

So if you live in a typical single residential home, that would mean where you'd pay $3,468 in tax this year, you'd pay $3,613 in 2023, based on these preliminary estimates.

Helen Pike/CBC
Helen Pike/CBC

Due to the pandemic, most city fees were held at 2021 levels as a part of last year's budget. That's due to change under this proposal.

For example, some of the rate increases proposed include:

  • Increases to transit fares across the board annually. Adult single rides would increase from $3.60 to $3.70 in 2023, reaching $4 per ride by 2026. An adult monthly pass would increase from $112 to $115 in 2023, and $126 by 2026.

  • Facility passes at city-owned pools, fitness centres and skating rinks would all increase. An adult monthly pass to a city leisure centre, currently priced at $63.55, would reach $65.20 in 2023 and $70.45 in 2026. While green fees at city golf courses are proposed to increase by around a dollar in 2023, increases for future years are currently listed as "TBA."

  • Monthly rates for residential blue, black and green carts are all proposed to increase. Black cart fees would reach $6.99 per month in 2023 and $7.13 per month in 2024, reaching $7.41 per month by 2026.

  • Costs for cemetery services are increasing across the board. Where a scattering of cremated remains would cost you $150 in 2022, it'll increase to $154.50 in 2023.

Similar rate increases can be found throughout the city's proposed document.

The city said it made "difficult trade-offs" in developing its budget documents, basing much of its decision-making on the results it heard from public engagement on budget plans.

WATCH | Reporter Scott Dippel explains possible changes to property taxes, user fees:

According to that engagement as listed in the city's budget documents, 54 per cent of Calgarians said they would prefer a tax increase to maintain or expand service, compared to 39 per cent who said they would prefer services to be cut to maintain or reduce taxes.

The city also proposed a variety of operating and capital investments as a part of its proposed budget documents.

A rundown of big-ticket items

The proposed total annual operating budget will reach nearly $4.7-billion in 2023, increasing to $4.9 billion by 2026.

Largely owing to increases in property tax revenue, the city is projecting its operating revenue could reach $323 million by 2026. Under the plan, various departments would receive a boost in funding:

  • Police services would see increased funding of $34.8 million, which the city said would be used to "continue the transformation and reform of policing" in Calgary, and lead to an increase in staffing and police technology.

  • Calgary Transit would see a boost of $23.1 million, which the city said will improve and sustain service.

  • The fire department, meanwhile, would see an increase of $34.2 million, allocated for improving emergency response times and staffing new fire stations. It would also reinstate a medical response unit.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The city also says it has big plans for capital projects. The proposed five-year capital budget for the cycle running from 2023 to 2027 is $10.1 billion, which includes $5.7 billion in projects previously approved, including $4.3 billion for Calgary's Green Line.

The funding includes $559 million proposed for transit, $138 million of which would replace 25 CTrain cars past their end of life. The funding for those 25 LRT cars is allocated in 2024, meaning the time it will take to get those cars into service is some ways away yet.

The city also says it's looking into opportunities for alternative fuel buses, including electric and additional compressed natural gas.

Four new fire stations and three new libraries are also planned to be built during this four-year budget.

Councillors react

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said the numbers contained in the budget didn't come as a surprise, adding there is a lot of work to be done in the next two weeks.

However, she did say she did not think the tax increase would be perceived well outside city hall.

"But Calgarians are asking for things that will cost money," she said.

Mike Symington/CBC
Mike Symington/CBC

Coun. Courtney Walcott, representing Ward 8, said the proposal represented a "status quo" budget but noted what cost increases did exist would lead to better service for Calgarians.

"That little bit of money per month is a drastic, drastic shift in the quality of services that you can provide to people," Walcott said.