‘Spending freaks?’ Nenshi fires back at UCP criticism of city’s tax hikes

Mayor Naheed Nenshi suggested Monday that UCP critics are peddling “fiction” about municipal budgets and that the province may be trying to distract Albertans when it comes to their own financial record.

“I can imagine that the minister is really interested in distracting people from his own budget, which, let’s see — increased income taxes, increased property taxes, cut front-line services, had a 33-per-cent cut to the Calgary Police Service and managed to increase the deficit $2 billion at the same. Pretty neat trick,” Nenshi told reporters Monday.

“Clearly, the city is the government in Alberta that has its financial house in order.”

Nenshi made the comments in response to Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu calling Calgary city council “spending freaks” over the weekend at the UCP’s annual general meeting.

Madu’s attack stemmed from council’s approval of the 2020 city budget last week which contained a 7.51-per-cent hike in taxes for the typical family home — an amount that equates to $12.50 a month, city officials clarified Monday. The bulk of the increase came from council’s decision to shift more of the property tax burden onto homeowners from businesses.

However, a portion of the hike came from council’s decision to compensate for UCP budget changes last October that left a $13-million hole in police budgets. Nenshi and some council members have been vocal in characterizing the move as the province “downloading” costs onto municipalities.

On Monday, city officials, including the mayor, provided more detail on the latest municipal budget.

The city’s chief financial officer, Carla Male, said that the lion’s share of the tax hike on homeowners is the result of council electing to shift about $60 million of the municipal tax burden between the residential and non-residential classes. The move is anticipated to help buffer volatile hikes in taxes triggered automatically on some businesses as a result of depressed property values in the downtown.

Council also elected to boost spending on some city services in 2020, specifically through the reversal of some cuts made to transit and other departments last July.

However, the service increases won’t be felt by Calgarians on their tax bills next year since council elected to use one-time money, amounting to $48 million over two years, to fund the increase, according to city officials.

The city must find reductions of at least $24 million in 2021 and more in consecutive years or taxes would again increase.

More to come …