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Wednesday, 24 July 2013 13:48

Money, or lack of, can create problems

Written by  Rose Sanchez
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Some people presume having money is easier than not having it. There’s likely truth to that saying, but not if you’re the City of Calgary.

Earlier this spring, city officials were trying to decide how to deal
with a $52 million windfall. Actually, the money belongs to the Calgary taxpayers, but some politicians see it as a windfall.
The City collects taxes on behalf of the provincial government. Turns out the Province decided to leave $52 million on the table, meant to stay in residents’ wallets. In recent years Calgarians have been paying more taxes, helping out other fast-growing municipalities. This year, the Province quit that, but the City still collected it.
City politicians were polling Calgarians to find out what to do with the “extra” money. There were five options presented: create a dedicated Transit Capital Fund; give businesses a tax break; create a “Revitalizing our Communities” fund; reduce debt or give it back to taxpayers by reducing the overall increase in the property tax rate. The fifth option would mean an extra $126 in every homeowner’s pocket.
Surveys were completed, as were public meetings, with more than 10,000 having their say. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of giving it back with 5,224 votes. The next two favourite choices were the transit fund and paying off debt with about 1,200 votes each. The least favourite option was giving businesses a break.
Then came the devastating flood at the end of June. To some outsiders it became clear where the money should be used — repairing the flood damage and potentially for flood mitigation.
That’s the view of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Derek Fildebrandt wrote a column June 27 which stated: “And debate about what to do with the extra $52 million in property taxes held by the City of Calgary would seem to have been settled by Mother Nature.”
Did we forget to mention that federal and provincial funding should cover the costs of flood damage and the City is sitting on $295 million
in a “fiscal stability reserve” designed for emergencies?
This week, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is proposing that $52 million be spent on flood recovery costs in the event other governments won’t foot the bills. Not only that, he wants to see an additional $52 million be collected next year to create a $104 million fund.
It’s hard to refund taxpayers now it has already been collected as part of the tax roll, but why bother spending the time — and money — to gather public input about the $52 million if you have no intention of heeding the advice?
Spend the $52 million on helping clean up the flood-ravaged city this year, but next year keep the money where it belongs and the place the Province intended it to stay all along — in taxpayer’s wallets.
And while we’re working on next year’s budget, someone please
send the Alberta government a copy of Fildebrandt’s column (http://
about rebuilding the flood-ravaged province responsibly and starting
to actually budget for disasters.
The provincial case is the other side of the coin — not having enough money
As Fildebrandt so aptly points out, the $16.8 billion sustainability fund was spent during “sunny and fair-weather days” and there’s no money left for this disaster unless the government chooses to go further into debt.
His suggestion: “An emergency budget that reallocates money currently earmarked for other spending envelopes towards relief and rebuilding might be tough, but it would be the responsible thing to do. Spending on items that were ‘nice to have’ need to be sacrificed for the ‘need to have’ right now.”
If there’s anything to learned from this most-recent event, it’s that it is time for provincial officials to budget appropriately for disasters.
Rose Sanchez is assistant managing editor with the Prairie Post.
Contact her with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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