In one of the most controversial issues Calgary has faced in recent times, a threatened massive hike in property taxes has enraged small businesses. They are taking their grievance to City Hall on Monday.
Their anger and frustration is being squarely directed at city council and Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Many say the tax increases will be a crushing blow for their businesses.
Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. a massive rally is being planned at City Hall. City council will meet later that day to debate the issue.
“It’s time for Calgary’s business community to come together and stand up to drastic property tax increases and lack of leadership from #YYCcc,” Richard Truscott, Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, tweeted.
Kelly Doody, founder of The Social School, a digital marketing school in Inglewood, has been one of the leaders of the tax rebellion.
When she discovered how much taxes were soaring, she mounted a social media campaign to raise awareness of the issue and put some pressure on Calgary’s mayor and city council.
“I wish this were a joke, but sadly it’s not,” Doody wrote in a recent Facebook post. “Last week, my beloved small business Social School paid $500/month in property tax at our space in Inglewood. Beginning this week: $3200/mo. Our rent is $3000/mo. On no planet does that make sense.”
Doody said the building in which she rents space has recently become one-third vacant, “but has apparently spiked in value by 427 per cent. (Built in) 1955, cinder block two-storey, leaky tar roof, newly redesignated a ‘class 1 building’ (akin to a new build) from previous class 3, as with all our neighbours. This is not ‘redistribution,’ or a ‘tax shift from the downtown core,’ it’s criminal and gutting.”
Doody said she is looking for empathy, leadership, change and a fair shake for small business in YYC is what’s on the table.
Municipal and provincial governments need to take action and work together because both levels are responsible for the mess.
“The house is on fire, and meaningful action is needed NOW.”
She said it is irresponsible to say the city’s hands are tied and they can’t change or fix our small business property tax crisis because it lies with the province.
“City council has the power to change it, saw it coming for years, sat on their hands, and have admitted as much.
“The more we learn of those who’ve already closed, those on the brink, those who’ve lost livelihoods, staff, dreams, homes leveraged against their local business, the clearer it is we must come together and find short and long-term solutions, NOW.”
The volatile reaction from the small business community and the public has not gone unnoticed at City Hall.
In an unprecedented move, Councillor Jeff Davison took to social media to publish a video on LinkedIn to apologize to the business community. He said many businesses discovered “an unsustainable increase that threatens their very livelihood.”
“I apologize those tax bills went out. We apologize for the anxieties those tax bills have caused. Those bills should have never gone out. I also apologize that during this economic crisis there’s been a lack of leadership right from the top. This problem has been a long time coming. Past city councils have made some questionable decisions on city taxation. Quite honestly we’ve depended too much on businesses to support our city and now the process behind this assessment has failed us and businesses are closing,” said Davison.
“But with all that said there is a group of city councillors that are prepared to make a fix happen on Monday. First, we’ve committed $71 million from our rainy day fund to help these outrageous tax hikes come down. There’s no doubt that it’s raining hard right now and we need to protect businesses. Second, our plan will direct city administration to find an additional $60 million in operating budget cuts by the end of July. This is $131 million that will ensure that the 2019 non-residential rates will not increase over the 2018 rates. That in fact will also ensure a cut from those 2018 non-residential rates happens.
“We need our businesses in our communities to stay as healthy as possible and this will provide immediate relief. Finally, we’ll also be talking to our partners at the province to find a solution together that addresses assessment reform so that this does not happen again. A long-term fix is needed and I’m fully prepared to have that conversation. But for now please accept our apologies for the mess that has happened and know that there are those of us on city council that are willing to stand up and protect small business in our city.”
Mario Toneguzzi is a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary. He writes for Calgary’s Business.