Taxpayers' Association, Chamber pushing for 0% tax hike

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
January 17, 2018 - 12:01pm Updated: January 22, 2018 - 10:58am

The Red Deer Taxpayers' Association is once again calling for a zero per cent property tax increase.

City council will make that determination when it wraps up debate on the 2018 Operating Budget debate.

Association President Jason Stephan says they've done the math and feel the Operating Budget should be $100 million less than proposed, which would more than make up for the projected 2.0 per cent tax hike.

"Over the past ten years or so, since Craig Curtis has become City Manager, the increases in operating expenses have far outstripped inflation and population growth in our city," he says, adding he’s got nothing personal against Curtis.

"Rather than assuming the taxpayer needs to be funding the budget with increases to their taxes, The City needs to look within itself in these challenging economic times just like households and businesses do and see where they can become more efficient."

Stephan says while council may applaud saving a million dollars here or there, one million dollars makes up less than one per cent of the overall budget, and businesses and households have restricted their purse strings far more.

“As a general rule of thumb we believe increases in government spending should align with the rate of population growth and inflation. Between 2003 and 2006 our population increased by 37% and inflation increased by 30%. Over the same period city operating spending increased by over 219%,” says Reg Warkentin, Policy and Advocacy Manager with the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce.

A portion of the proposed property tax hike each year is a one per cent contribution to capital projects, something Stephan and Warkentin believe is important. However, they feel council needs to find those efficiencies so taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill.

“Using the carbon tax or funding of capital projects as a mechanism for an ongoing annual tax hike is a disincentive for them to find efficiencies and an offloading of their responsibility as fiscal stewards for tax dollars,” Warkentin continues, also referring to the 0.11 per cent of the proposed tax increase caused by the carbon tax.

rdnewsNOW spoke to Craig Curtis during budget deliberations this week. He says the budget, as proposed, is the best they could come up with and does involve some cutbacks and reductions in service.

“There are very, very few services that are being increased in this budget,” he points out. “One of the factors they’re not taking into account is we have to consider both growth and inflation together. One of the reasons the budgets have gone up more than inflation is because of the flow through dollars where there are millions of dollars of provincial grants coming in for housing and all these new programs.”

Curtis says a three to four per cent increase yearly is what’s sustainable for maintaining services.

Stephan cites a recent report compiled by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business which puts Red Deer at 48th out of 87 Alberta municipalities in terms of property tax fairness.

“I don’t like us being mediocre. I want us to strive to be the very best. I just want The City to say ‘How can be the very best in providing services to our clients?' I think that stems from how efficient we are with using the resources we have,” he says. “I deal with businesses which are successful and strive to be excellent and I'd like to see that same culture permeating into The City.”

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