Do you get the feeling city council says “yes” to everything?

With the month of March coming to a close, taxes that are too high seems to be a recurring theme. Maybe the T-word is top of mind because we’re all having to take part in our annual check-in with Ottawa.

I’m hoping to find ways to keep more money in your bank account by keeping property taxes as low as possible. That’s by reducing spending at city hall. A way to do that is resisting the call to add programs, and increase services.

A question that is not asked enough on city council, and something I hope to change, is “what’s the downside to not doing this?” A couple of items came across my desk recently that drive that point home.

One shows the taxpayers’ emotion over who foots the bill. The “Nextdoor” bulletin board website saw a complaint about compounding double digit “tax increases” over the past ten years. Mention was made too about city council’s fascination with “shiny objects”. Ironically the post was removed by the moderators after reply comments became too politically charged for a website not intended for political discourse.

Economic professors weigh in

The other document comes from the University of Calgary School of Public Policy which warns about the dangers of rising commercial property taxes and the negative impact they have on investment. It’s a research paper co-authored by Bev Dahlby, Ergete Ferede and Mukesh Khanal from the University of Alberta, MacEwan University and the University of Calgary. 

Bottom line, it validates what we’ve heard before in the previous claims of the business community that rising non-residential property taxes are harmful for both business and the City as a whole.

“When considering an increase in their non-residential property tax rates, Alberta municipalities must also take into account the adverse effects such an increase will likely have on business investment in their communities. Based on data on commercial and industrial permit values for 17 Alberta cities from 1998 to 2017, this paper shows that increasing the non-residential property tax rate corresponds to a drop in businesses investment in buildings and structures. Raising the non-residential property tax rate by, for example, 10 per cent results in a seven per cent drop in business investment.”

Where to go from here 

Edmonton over the last couple of decades has followed a policy to do two kinds of construction: build new, and rehab what’s already in place. And it’s slowly shifted from the former to the latter. That work helps with job creation, and gives us good value for money. 

Long term savings can be found, as council looks to supporting the campaign to end homelessness, as it tries to lift our vulnerable population out of poverty, while reducing the expenses in healthcare and policing.

As new neighbourhoods crop up, we'll be faced with the reality that they cost more to build, compared to the tax revenue they bring in over their lifespan. It's an inescapable reality. It's been that way for decades.

It's why the city plan, looking at a population of 2-million promotes infill, and 15-minute communities. But there is enough space for both building in Rossdale, the Exhibition Lands, Blatchford and along transit corridors.

Just don't dismiss our inventory in Ipiikhookhanipiaohhtsi of new communities that young couples are attracted to as a first home.

So sure, spend on bridge maintenance, or fixing roofs, even re-cladding buildings and upgrading HVAC systems especially when the project pays for itself in energy savings over a set period of time. 

Yet is an Office of the Integrity Commissioner, coupled with an ethics advisor needed? How about re-examining how large the budget is for ad space, and air time to promote programs that people know about already? And maybe it’s time to bite the bullet on high-cost, low-return hours of operation on rec facilities, and concentrate on running programs when the bulk of the population will use them? Repurpose the single sheet ice rinks with a partner to share costs? That's something identified in the city's "reimagine plan" that I agree with.

Let’s stick with the need to haves. Once we get that in order we'll have time to worry about the nice to haves later. 


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Scott Johnston for Edmonton City Council