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Guidelines prompt tax debate

Whether or not Canmore politicians should continue to redistribute tax increases between commercial and residential properties was a topic of debate last week when council was asked to pass the budget guidelines for next year.

Whether or not Canmore politicians should continue to redistribute tax increases between commercial and residential properties was a topic of debate last week when council was asked to pass the budget guidelines for next year.

The guidelines passed, but not after an amendment by Councillor John Borrowman in relation to tax levels was defeated in a tie vote.

The wording in the guidelines, said Borrowman, implies council will balance tax increases between residential and commercial ratepayers.

“I would like to see some leeway in those guidelines,” he said.

Councillors Hans Helder and Gordie Miskow agreed with the proposed change.

“It is timely for us to consider seriously if we are going to continue making adjustments to the commercial tax rate relative to the residential tax rate,” Helder said.

Mayor Ron Casey, however, spoke against the motion, warning the practice has spared residential tax payers from unsustainable and large increases in the past.

“I disagree that we need to unbalance what we have balanced over the years,” said the mayor. “We have balanced residential over time to make those percentage increases smaller.

“When you stop doing that you go back to where we were before with 15 to 20 per cent increases to residential taxes… and anybody who does not think we will have huge fluxuations again is dreaming in Technicolor.”

While there was no appetite to loosen the language surrounding the tax burden, council did vote unanimously to direct administration to form a budget committee this year.

Deputy chief administrative officer Lisa de Soto said administration planned to bring the committee forward at the fall organizational meeting.

The mayor, however, felt putting off forming the committee until the fall means it could not be involved in the 2012 budget process.

“We have talked about this and have yet to get one up and running,” he said. “Even if it is half capacity this year it is worthwhile… if we want to get the public involved I think we have a basis to start from.”

Casey made the motion to have the terms of reference for a budget committee presented to council before the summer recess.

Manager of financial services Terry Holt pointed out last year council mandated a $1 million reduction in the operating budget.

“In 2011, council was diligent and cut $1 million in operating that provides a solid base for moving forward,” he said.

Holt also said assessment growth is expected to be less than it has been in the past. New growth has in the past provided added tax revenues to offset tax increases.

The guidelines set out the Consumer Price Index for the budget to grow overall at 0.8 per cent. The CPI traditionally used by Canmore is for a basket of goods in Calgary in 2010.

Coun. Ed Russell expressed concern the guideline is steering council into raising budgets without objective criteria.

Miskow, on the other hand, said he is concerned the cost of living in Canmore is higher than Calgary and the 0.8 per cent may not be adequate.

“When we use this number I think we shoot ourselves in the foot,” Miskow said. “I think this is too low.”

Holt recommended if council has specific direction or changes in service levels it would like to see that it be brought up at the June 29 planning session with administration. That session is not open to the public or media.


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