Braid: Tax-crazed councillors of city hall face a real fight from united low-tax caucus

Dissenting councillors keep putting pressure on the tax-crazed majority

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Calgary city councillors are so low they could ride a bus under a snake. There’s rarely been a council so despised.

A recent poll from Marc Henry’s Think HQ says only two per cent of Calgarians strongly approve of council’s performance.

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But not all members deserve this public contempt. Six councillors — the Sane Six — are fiercely opposed to the 7.8 per cent property tax grab.

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They’ll bring a committee motion Tuesday to cut the increase to 5.8 per cent.

They want a much larger reduction but figure this modest proposal might win over two councillors, enough for a voting majority, and actually force a cut.

Success is unlikely. At city hall, too many procedural tricks stand on guard against common sense.

But the dissenting councillors keep putting pressure on the tax-crazed majority.

They rebels are Sonya Sharp, Ward 1; Jennifer Wyness, Ward 2; Sean Chu, Ward 4; Terry Wong, Ward 7; Andre Chabot, Ward 10; and Dan McLean, Ward 13.

They fought the original 7.8 per cent grab when it was first approved.

“Sonya Sharp and I made multiple, multiple proposals for reducing the tax,” says Chabot. “They all failed, every single one.” Sharp alone had 10 amendments thrown out.

They now ask city officials to find $23 million in spending cuts. That would reduce the tax hike by two points.

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Chabot also notes that the increase for 2025 is already set at 5.4 per cent (in an election year!) and a further 5.4 per cent in 2026.

That’s nearly 20 per cent over three years. It comes after property tax had already been jacked up three times since this group was elected in 2021.

Chabot says overspending is also looting the city treasury.

“All of our reserves have been drawn down to the bare minimum in one term — reserves that took decades to build to the levels they were at.

“I think financial restraint needs to be a major consideration on a go-forward basis . . . hopefully, the next council will be more financially prudent.”

Sharp says the city puts out misinformation about the tax hike, claiming it only costs homeowners $16 a month.

“It’s not just $16 a month . . . it’s $16 a month plus your assessment going up plus the cost of groceries and everything else,” she says.

“I’m getting calls and emails from constituents who say this isn’t $16 a month, it’s $90 or $120 a month.”

But the planned tax hike for 2025, Sharp adds, “is already baked into the budget. People aren’t realizing yet that this was not just a one-time increase.

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“There’s a lot of misinformation coming out from some members of council.”

Calgary city council budget talks 2023
Calgary city council approved a 7.8 per cent residential property tax increase during budget deliberations last fall. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia Network

The group wants officials to find the $23 million in cuts from 29 “investments.” (That’s what city hall calls spending these days.)

Sharp exempts initiatives for public safety and housing affordability because “those are the top priorities for Calgarians. But there are other line items that can be postponed.”

One target for cuts, she says, should be “corporate inflation” — the cost of city administration that brought this giant tax hike to council in the first place.

All councillors got a scheduled salary raise of 2.4 per cent on Jan. 1. That made the whole group look bad, especially when nobody proposed reversing the pay hike.

Chabot says he wanted to object but was told 10 votes would be needed.

After so many of his anti-spending motions have “died on the vine,” he says, there was “no likelihood that I’d get 10 members of council to agree to reconsider our salary.”

The resistance movement on this council is strong, but rarely gets much credit because the non-partisan system tends to spread blame equally.

Maybe it’s finally time for a party system at city hall. At least we’d see a clear line between sense and nonsense.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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