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The $52 Million Question: It is a “Talker” in Calgary

Posted June 11th, 2013 in Calgary, Calgary City Council, Media Release, News by admin

What happens when a city has $52 Million in extra annual tax revenue and asks voters what should be done with it?


Most of them have an opinion…and in Calgary right now, a plurality want a tax break.  Indeed, a majority want to take the decision from Council, and put it on the ballot this Fall.


Property taxes in Alberta have two parts: one municipal and one provincial, with the municipality a tax collector for the annual provincial property tax requisition.  This year, the provincial requisition was lower than expected – a lot lower – but City Council chose to keep the overall property tax increase steady, and capture an additional $52 Million in revenue.  With the tax rate set, an additional $52 Million will be going to City coffers every year from now on.


Having decided to keep the provincial tax room for municipal purposes, The City set out on a very unconventional public engagement.  5 options were presented to citizens at malls, online, and kicked off with a “reality show” type debate of the issue.  Voters were asked their preferences – in qualitative form – about the options, and based on this feedback, Council is scheduled to make a decision by the end of July.


With the public consultation completed, but the report a month from public release, ThinkHQ thought we’d take the public’s temperature on the issue.  Here’s what we found from a June 6-10, 2013 representative survey of 442 Calgary voters.


Awareness of the issue is very high – it’s a “talker”.  Fully 88% of Calgarians are aware of the additional tax revenue being contemplated by City Council.


When presented with the 5 options posed by The City, nearly four-in-ten (39%) say provide residential tax relief, with 25% preferring city debt reduction, 17% opting for a dedicated capital fund for Transit, 12% saying develop a capital fund for maintenance and renewal of older communities, and 7% are unsure which option they prefer.  Fewer than 1% say use the additional revenue to cut business taxes.


Although not a part of the City’s consultation, with an election just around the corner, there are calls from some segments for the question to be put to a plebiscite during the October 21st municipal election.  It’s a notion which has traction with Calgary voters.  Fully 53% say they believe the issue should be decided by plebiscite compared to 38% who oppose a ballot question on the matter.  It’s an issue which polarizes people, with one-quarter either strongly opposed or strongly in favour of a direct decision by voters.


For Council, the timing of this issue is not great.  The $52 Million is a hot-button issue, coming at a time when voters are, otherwise, reasonably content.  And the municipal election is less than 135 days away.


For excerpts from our recent survey, click: June 2013 YYC Civic Special Feature Tax