May 23, 2013 | Cody Stuart
The $52 Million QuestionThe City of Calgary has $52 million of provincial tax room kicking around and is asking local residents how best to spend it.
"This is a significant amount of unbudgeted money," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. "We've debated five options in council—all of which reflect the priorities of Calgarians— and this is our opportunity to engage citizens to hear what they think before council makes a decision in July." The City has provided residents with five options for using the tax room: creating a new dedicated capital fund for Calgary Transit, reducing the tax rate for businesses, investing in maintenance and renewal of older neighbourhoods, reducing the City's debt and annual interest payments, and lowering the taxes homeowners pay.
According to the City, diverting the $52 million to transit would attract matching funds from the provincial and federal governments, possibly allowing for construction of new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)/transitway projects.
Citizens can give their input on all or any of the five options online at Calgary.ca or by contacting 311. The City is also holding several face-to-face public engagements as part of the consultation process, including a live debate among members of City Council at the Devonian Gardens on May 28 from 12:00 p.m. – 12:45 p.m.
Council approved the 2013 budget in 2012 and the province, after its budget in March 2013, actually requested less of its estimated portion of 40 per cent than it had anticipated resulting in the $52 million windfall.
Council policy states this money cannot be used for day-to-day operational expenses, but may be used for capital projects, which the City often asks the Province to help fund, or debt reduction.
Currently, about 60 per cent of the property taxes citizens pay goes to the City for operations including police, fire, 911, road maintenance, parks and recreation facilities. The other 40 per cent goes directly to the Province.
The public consultation will conclude on June 2 at midnight. The results of the public consultation will be reported to the Priorities and Finance Committee on July 16 and to City Council on July 22.