Council debated a Notice of Motion brought forward by Cllr. Wong (2024 Residential Tax Rebate) at the January 30th Regular meeting of Council. Here is how I approached the decision and an update on the outcome...
The Notice of Motion directs #1 a reconsideration of the most recent budget adjustments and #2 a $23.1 million rebate back to residential homeowners while directing Administration to return with recommendations on how to remove $23.1 million from the operating budget (year-over-year base expenses).
UPDATE (January 30th)
In the end, I voted for this Motion Arising:
It provides a much better process without the liabilities of administrating a rebate program and directing Admin to find cuts as they simultaneously implement the budget. This direction allows for more informed decisions that keep Council closer to the decision points and allow time for the back-and-forth conversation about the tradeoffs.
The 2019 cuts (as an example) were very abrupt and disruptive to The City and this process allows for a more thoughtful and surgical approach. I will be pushing for $23 million as the floor for these upcoming discussions on finding savings in the budget.
The Budget Pendulum
On #2 I support the intent.
Council’s currently approved four-year budget already has an approved 3.65% increase for 2025. When you add in the potential of a further one percentage point shift from non-residential to residential (2% impact), Council could be asking Calgarians to shoulder another 5.6% increase.
Wondering why I supported a 7.8% increase this year? I encourage you to read my 2023 Adjustments blog.
I will remain open-minded on the rebate, but while an expedient political move by my Council colleagues, rebating is costly to administrate and ultimately kicks the can down the road on our growing funding gaps. In my opinion the best work for all Calgarians is when we take steps forward in our service optimization and innovation efforts. Financial Task Force / Municipal Fiscal Gap Report
For example: The City is currently working on consolidating its financial reporting in a historically decentralized organization. When this work is done it will open doors for automation and large savings to The City’s operations.
Now, I believe there is a natural pendulum swing of reigning in spending and then thoughtfully reinvesting that a healthy political system and discourse enables. When operating well it is to all our benefit. To that end, Council needs to scrutinize spending and actively look for savings. I will be supporting any outcome on Tuesday that ensures Council engages in a robust review of where The City can find savings.
I know for many of you reading this, it is too little and too late, and you will immediately be suspicious but please hear me out.
Why push for savings now?
Consider that the current Council was given their mandate in 2021 on the back of $177.5 million in base reductions that had very real implications for our Transit, Fire, Parks and other services that The City delivers.
Regular budget contractions can help spark innovation and drive efficiency but also comes with disruption and long-term costs to Calgarians if not done thoughtfully and surgically.
On #1 I am not supportive.
Forcing Administration to put down their pens in the middle of implementing the 2024 budget is not thoughtful or surgical. While I am supportive of the intent, I am not supportive of the currently outlined process. Council needs to give room to Administration to bring thoughtful recommendations for savings and further leave room for the back-and-forth conversation that leads to the best outcomes.
Don't hesitate to reach out to share your thoughts,
Cllr, Ward 12