Minister of Municipal Affairs Kaycee Madu is seen at the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce’s Mayor’s State of the City Address luncheon.
Ian Kucerak / Postmedia
The province has thrown cold water on a request from Calgary city council for help in assisting businesses facing steep property tax hikes, after council released a $190-million proposal to limit the soaring bills caused by the economic downturn.Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu appeared to bluntly reject the possibility of the provincial government stepping in to provide assistance to the city in a statement provided to Postmedia on Thursday.“The City of Calgary needs to look after its own house,” Madu said. “They have hiked operational spending far beyond inflation and population over the last decade. Council needs to think about where this money has gone and why it has become so reliant on passing its spending hikes onto businesses. It is hard work, but we are doing our part at the Legislature.”Madu’s statement came hours after council announced that it would seek to implement urgent tax relief measures for commercial property owners on the heels of property tax bills landing in mailboxes across the city this week.A joint release from 13 of 14 city councillors and Mayor Naheed Nenshi said an urgent notice of motion would be brought forward at the June 17 council meeting, which will attempt to provide $190 million in tax relief to non-residential taxpayers.“We absolutely have to do something in 2019,” Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said earlier Thursday afternoon. “Even if the bills have already gone out, that’s no excuse or reason for us to not be able to move forward. We can always do things retroactively.”The proposal comes just days after council appeared poised to leave non-residential property owners on the hook for their 2019 tax bills without any financial assistance.Around 64 per cent of commercial property owners will see double-digit increases on their tax bills this year due to a redistribution of non-residential taxes as a result of plunging property values downtown.Asked Thursday why council took months to agree on a solution to the problem, Colley-Urquhart said council could have done better.“I think the accusations toward each one of us on council that we dithered around with this trying to find a way forward is fair,” Colley-Urquhart said. “But we need to deal with this now and we need to deal with 2019 as well.”Council’s proposal — which has not yet been formally voted on — would seek immediate reductions to the municipal budget of $60 million in 2019 and in future years.Council members are also planning to ask the provincial government to offer matching funds to assist in alleviating the tax burden on Calgary businesses. Local officials are urging the province to acknowledge its role in contributing to the property tax burden since approximately $780 million in taxes are remitted to the Alberta government each year to fund education.The city has already set aside approximately $71 million to aid to non-residential ratepayers.Relief would be applied to tax bills “on a basis proportional to their increases,” according to the proposal.Ten members of city council are attending the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Quebec City this weekend. Emails and phone calls were traded for hours Thursday morning and afternoon as council members in Calgary and Quebec worked to complete the proposal.A few said they felt a renewed urgency after hearing from businesses and constituents.“I’ve been fielding phone calls and texts for the last 24 hours from amazing business and building owners in Ward 9 who were feeling gut punched upon opening their tax bills,” said Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra. “A lot of my colleagues are in similar positions, so everyone was motivated to finally arrive at the path we’ve been maneuvring toward over the last several months.”Council has not yet voted on the proposal and a formal request for assistance has not yet been issued to the provincial governmentBut in his statement Thursday, Madu suggested the province is currently preoccupied with what it calls the “fiscal mess” it inherited from the previous government.“We are now doing the hard work of streamlining operations to deliver better services without raising taxes. We are cutting business taxes by one third, scrapping the carbon tax and cutting red tape. These are all necessary steps to make life more affordable for businesses and Albertans,” he said.A spokesperson for the minister did not clarify Thursday evening if the provincial government intended to reject council’s request for $60 million in matching funds once the formal entreaty arrives.Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas was not a signatory to council’s proposed plan. He held his own news conference on rising tax bills Thursday afternoon and proposed a plan that would see immediate reductions to pay and benefits for council members, city management and municipal staff, along with a slate of other cost-saving email@example.comTwitter: @mpotkins