Calgary Taxpayers Bear Heavier Burden

Media Appearances, Municipal Government, Frontier Centre

Calgary’s total tax burden per capita last year was almost a third higher than the average Prairie city, according to a new report released by a right-leaning think-tank.

The report by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy drew swift criticism from aldermen on both sides of the contentious budget debate last month, with some saying the document should be comparing Calgary to cities such as Vancouver and Ottawa, not Medicine Hat and Grande Prairie.

When you divide the amount of tax revenue last year–property taxes, business taxes and more — by the number of households in Calgary, that adds up to around $3,000 per Calgary household, the report said.

That number is 32 per cent higher than the average of 10 Prairie cities that include Red Deer, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said the report.

The $3,000 total, however, does not reflect an average tax bill for Calgarians, since homeowners pay only property taxes and not other levies such as business taxes.

The average municipal property tax bill this year, on a home assessed at $430,000, was $1,080.

What’s more, a survey from the City of Edmonton said the average Calgary household’s property tax bill last year ranked the lowest out of 24 Canadian cities.

Still, David Seymour, a senior policy analyst with the Frontier Centre, said people should wonder why Calgary’s total tax burden per capita is higher than the rest of the Prairie region.

“One of the questions I would want to ask if I was a Calgarian is why are our taxes 32 per cent higher than the average Prairie city?” he said.

Ald. Gord Lowe said it was fruitless to compare Calgary to its Prairie counterparts.

“You’ve got to compare apples to apples,” said Lowe, one of the city budget’s architects. “Grande Prairie, for example, doesn’t have an LRT system.”

Ald. Andre Chabot, who voted against the city budget that includes a 19.1 per cent tax hike compounded over three years, agreed with Lowe.

“There’s a whole bunch of issues that have come up with crime, for example. You wouldn’t face that in a smaller city.

“Look at Calgary when it had 100,000 people. Everybody was buddy-buddy with each other, the community took care of itself. That can’t happen anymore.”

Ald. Jim Stevenson said while the comparison might be unbalanced, the point is well taken. He wants audits done to see whether the city is getting value for money.

“We have no idea what kind of bang for our buck we’re getting,” he said.

The centre’s report also said services such as recreation, culture and social housing are non-core services — and that Calgary was spending less of its cash on those services than the average Canadian city, something it said was the right move.

But Ald. Druh Farrell argued the city needed to keep infusing cash into those services.

“If you want to cut things like spending on quality of life, chances are you’ll be spending more on crime prevention.”