I am prioritizing this Value for Tax Dollars platform as an immediate priority in my first 100 days as your new Councillor. It is time to spend smarter and rethink how we use our tax dollars. It will be incumbent upon the new council to do the hard work of pushing for the savings that Calgarians are demanding while making wise investments for the future.
Not feeling like you are getting value for the taxes you are paying to The City? You are not alone. For the past 10 years, we have watched our property taxes steadily increase and now our City services are visibly on the decline — our confidence declining in tandem. I will work hard as your Councillor to ensure residents of Ward 12 get the highest possible value for their tax dollars.
Evan Knows - A Four-Step Action Plan to Improve Value for Your Tax Dollars & Manage Assets Better
Value for Tax Dollars Action #1: Smart Investments
The first Value for Tax Dollars action, as your Councillor, will be prioritizing strategies that are built on data that clearly show how those tax dollars help The City avoid a financial reckoning down the road. For example, we need to invest in infrastructure that makes us more financially resilient in the long run (i.e., Green Line) and services that help all Calgarians to be productive members of society.
Value for Tax Dollars Action #2: Address PTP
The second Value for Tax Dollars action as your Councillor will be addressing the short-term strategy of minimizing the tax crunch on our businesses with the Phased Tax Program. Our Fiscal Stability Reserve (FSR), commonly known as the “slush fund”, cannot bear the weight of this tax relief forever. I have also talked to small business owners who had to fight with their landlords to receive their fair share of the relief. We can only push off the financial reckoning into the future for so long.
Value for Tax Dollars Action #3: Zero-Based Reviews
The third Value for Tax Dollars action as your Councillor will be working through past reports from the auditors when tasked with Zero-Based Reviews. These reviews help identify efficiencies and make recommendations based on detailed analysis. For example, the 2019 IT ZBR anticipated $785,000 in cost savings and $3.85million in annual productivity gains by providing the right Hardware for City staff. Past councils didn’t implement all the recommendations and due to the tight financial circumstances we find ourselves in, it is likely time to implement more of them.
Value for Tax Dollars Action #4: New Revenue Model
The fourth Value for Tax Dollars action as your Councillor will be grappling with the deficiencies in our city’s revenue-neutral property tax system that overly rewards and penalizes property owners based on the assessed value of their property. This system is far from ideal and that is being especially highlighted through the pandemic. Business owners with brick-and-mortar shops and office space are carrying far more weight while others are now working from home. We need a new revenue model in cooperation with the Province that takes these things into account.
The City is responsible for managing all of our resources. Infrastructure and asset management are an important component of the way The City does business and the policy aligns with the objectives outlined in the 2020 Sustainability Direction. It uses a plan-do-check-act business cycle and integrates this into the Corporate Asset Management Plan (CAMP). https://www.calgary.ca/cs/iis/asset-management-policies.html
I am committed to making resilient and productive investments with your tax dollars that have long-term financial benefits and stay within budget while protecting the services Calgarians need.
How did we get here?
- Have past increases in spending caught up to us? Yes.
- Have we failed to plan ahead for a productive and resilient future? Yes.
- Did we over-extend ourselves with debt while interest rates were low? Yes, again.
- Did leadership fail to account for the boom/bust cycles that historically impact us? Absolutely.
Yet, while all of these statements contain truth and need to be part of the discussions moving forward, it is undeniable that the biggest reason for the predicament we find ourselves in is our ailing local economy. The impacts of this are felt everywhere by individual Calgarians, especially those who are unemployed; but when it comes to The City, it has directly impacted the budget.
Here is the economic timeline:
- 2014-16 - The declining price of oil and external pressures take Alberta’s Oil & Gas revenue from $78.6 billion to $15.7 billion ($62.9B loss).
- 2016-19 - The head offices of many Oil & Gas companies vacate our downtown and the combination of vacancies and the corresponding drop in property values ($24.6 Billion to $9.4 Billion) pulls $300 million out of City revenues.
- 2020 - COVID-19 further impacts the economic health and highlights the need for alternative revenue options for The City of Calgary, as employers adjust to allowing their employees to work from home.
Tax Burden Shift Back to Revitalized Economies is Essential But Not Soon Enough
In response to the realities outlined above, The City shifted the tax burden to residential and businesses outside of downtown. Calgary is losing its competitive edge in key areas like the commercial sector as tax rates skyrocket. It can become a vicious cycle and if we are going to get off this path then our economy has to be prioritized and revitalized.
Responsible Hard Decisions Must Be Made to Valuable Savings Without Further Harming Valuable Services
In the meantime, we need to make some hard decisions. The City set aggressive targets to both optimize and cut spending through initiatives such as SAVE and has cut spending to the tune of $177.5 million dollars over a period of 18 months. Given the impacts of the last 18 months, Calgarians have been reminded just how important services and amenities, provided by the City, are.
As we look for savings, we need to cut with a scalpel, not with a chainsaw.
Irresponsible cuts may inadvertently have negative impacts on thousands of Calgarians and reinforce a downward spiral that will see people and businesses increasingly plan their futures somewhere other than Calgary.
As a Councillor, I will be looking very closely at our City Business Units and asking questions. We have a lot of advisors, strategists, team leads and other middle-management that are gifted at giving advice and repackaging other people’s work to present it as their own. We have a large ENGAGE (public consultation) unit and we are finding that Calgarians want more than fancy online surveys— they want to make meaningful contributions. These are a couple of examples of where I will be looking to find savings.