Canadian Taxpayers Federation calls on Calgary city council to cut spending by $460M

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling for Calgary city council to rein in spending and reduce property taxes ahead of the city’s budget deliberations at the end of November.

The CTF, along with several advocacy organizations, released a report on Wednesday that outlined 21 recommendations for city council to consider to reduce spending.

“Calgary taxpayers need tax relief and need a tax cut in 2021,” the CTF’s Alberta director Franco Terrazzano said Wednesday. “That means councillors and Mayor (Naheed) Nenshi need to roll up their sleeves and cut spending.”

The report’s recommendations include ending multiple pensions, reducing councillor salaries by 20 per cent, a rollback in labour costs and across-the-board reductions.

According to the CTF, city spending has increased $460 million since 2014, when the economic downturn began.

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Terrazzano said if the city’s residential property tax increases 2014 and 2019 were adjusted solely based on inflation and population growth, taxpayers would have saved $216 million.

“We’re calling for across-the-board spending cuts to bring spending back in line with 2014 levels, because Calgary taxpayers can’t afford to pay for the overspending by city councillors,” he said.

The advocacy groups, including Common Sense Calgary, the Alberta Institute, the Institute for Public Sector Accountability and Save Calgary, also called for rollbacks on infrastructure spending like the Arts Commons expansion project, $20 million in planning for the fieldhouse and the Flames arena deal.

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The report also recommended scrapping the public art program and reining in councillor expenses. This comes after an audit into Ward 2 councillor Joe Magliocca’s expenses found more than $5,000 in ineligible expenses, as well as an additional $3,200 in airfare upgrades.

Magliocca has since repayed $6,200 to the city and has been ordered to repay an extra $2,700.

When asked about the argument that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the time to cut spending and city services, Terrazzano said cutting property taxes would provide relief for those struggling due to the economic impacts from the pandemic.

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“What we’re calling for in 2021 is for every property taxpayer to see a tax cut, both families and businesses,” he said. “Taxpayers are tapped out and both families and businesses need relief.”

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Calgary city councillors are aiming for a freeze on property tax increases in the upcoming budget.

Ward 6 councillor Jeff Davison said Wednesday that he doesn’t believe a zero per cent increase is enough, but that city officials should be focused on balance.

“Is zero enough? Probably not,” he said. “Is it the balance we can achieve? Probably.”

“We’re trying to be measured in what we can throttle back right now so that we can ensure we’re making the right moves, and we’ll work with the community to make those moves.”

Davison said council has a hyper-focus on reducing spending this year, and is working with consultants at Ernst and Young to target savings of $24 million in 2021 and $50 million in 2022 from tax-supported budgets.

“It’s very easy for people to say, ‘Cut five per cent of everything,’ it’s very easy for people to say, ‘Go back to x-year levels.’ It’s not as simple as that,” he said. “We have legislation in place that impedes us doing that to some degree.”

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Terrazzano said the report will be sent to each city councillor and the mayor for their consideration.

City budget deliberations are set to begin at the end of November.

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