A Bold Path Forward: Keeping your taxes low
Starting today, and over the next several weeks, I will be revealing the answer to that question. In short: I hope to accomplish a whole lot! Our policy, A Bold Path Forward means a Better Economy, a Stronger and Safer Community and a Smarter City Hall over the next four years.
Smarter City Hall: City Efficiency and Tax Reform
Calgarians, and Calgary businesses, need strong leadership at City Hall to guide us through this economic downturn. Over the next four years, we must continue to cut red tape, review all City businesses units to create efficiencies, and make it easier to do business in Calgary. We also need to reform the assessment system for commercial properties.
The good news is that this work is well underway. The City has been cutting red tape, improving outcomes and reducing costs. Our efforts so far have generated $325 million in savings and efficiencies for Calgarians, all while maintaining the lowest residential taxes of any major city in Canada. But we need to do more.
Source: 2015 Residential Property Taxes and Utility Charges Survey
Running a more efficient City
Citizens and businesses dealing with the City on permits and approvals are seeing many service improvements as we’ve streamlined our processes and moved applications online. My Cut Red Tape program generated $14.7 million in savings through 45 separate improvements, but we must continue to integrate this thinking into the normal business practices across all City departments. We also identified many provincial barriers through the Cut Red Tape program. Now is the time to work with the Province to reform unnecessary provincial barriers so that we can help Calgarians start and grow their businesses.
By reviewing City services we’ve identified over $50 million in recurring, annual savings. Building on a promise I made, the City established Zero Based Reviews, a program that generates real savings and process improvements by placing the citizen at the centre of everything we do at the City. Over the next four years we must continue the Zero Based Review program and expand it to the “back of the house” to City functions like Law, IT, and HR to generate additional savings and reduce operating costs.
Reforming tax assessment for commercial properties
Each year the City assesses the value of non-residential, commercial properties. Many business owners appeal their assessment and are successful about 40% of the time. But under the current system, successful appeals have no bearing on the following year’s assessment, meaning that the same issues keep cropping up year after year.
I’ve heard from the business community loud and clear that it’s time to fix this process to ensure greater fairness, transparency and predictability. Even though Calgary and Edmonton operate under the same provincial rules, this seems to be much less of a problem in Edmonton. Something is clearly not working if so many business are filing successful appeals on a regular basis. That’s why I have asked Council to obtain an independent review of the assessment system and I will work hard to implement any necessary reforms.
Making it easier to do business with the City
In the recovering economic climate, many Calgarians have recently started their own businesses and have expertise that could benefit the City. But the processes to do business with the City are more complicated than they need to be. It’s difficult for small and medium-sized business owners to navigate the City’s procurement system. We can do a better job with how we share information about City procurement processes with businesses.
Everyone who is qualified and can provide the goods or services our City needs deserves a fair chance to bid on City projects. Building on improvements to the pre-qualification process for construction contractors, I will initiate a review of the City’s procurement practices to ensure businesses of all sizes and ages are treated fairly when pursuing opportunities to work with the City
New reforms through Calgary’s City Charter
After five years of hard work, Calgary and the Province have agreed on the first phase of the City Charter. Prior to the City Charter, the City did not have the authority to tackle many complex issues facing our citizens and business community. Our new City Charter will allow the City to improve how it serves citizens, increase affordable housing, protect the environment, cut red tape and even control dandelions. It will also help us collaborate with the Province on social, transportation and environmental issues. Eventually, the City Charter will make provincial infrastructure funding (for transit, roads, community facilities and water treatment, to name a few examples) more predictable and dependable.
The City Charter gives the City new authorities to better serve citizens, but City Council still needs to decide how to implement the City Charters to suit our local circumstances. We must focus on utilizing those new authorities on improving how the City serves its citizens.