With the moral certainty of a Victorian-era bishop, Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert delivers council’s rationale for their decision to increase property taxes by 12.5 per cent. While most governments are trying to find ways of reducing the impact of inflation, ours seems to see it as an opportunity to engage in unrestrained spending.
While council’s stated highest priority is affordability, they don’t seem to have any appreciation this kind of tax increase adds to the inflationary burden, especially to those least able to afford it. When businesses and landlords are faced with a major tax increase this is reflected in price and rent increases. Added to this are increases to municipal utility costs for water, sewage, garbage and recycling. This is not even part of but in addition to the 12.5 per cent property tax increase.
Mayor Krausert makes the argument that like families, the Town is at the mercy of factors they do not control. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have known for years the increase to the RCMP contract was coming.
Capital projects are optional, can be scheduled to reduce year over year cost impacts, or can be deferred to future years. Transit costs are going up because of decisions council has made to increase service and to provide local transit for free. Neither was mandated. And perhaps council could have considered the effect of absolute and increasing professional fees before they decided to proceed with appealing decisions related to Three Sisters Mountain Village.
Deciding to provide staff with a generous cost of living increase, representing a 4.1 per cent tax increase alone, may feel good but is it the right thing to do? Most employers are not inflating wages in this way and most collective agreements are not either because it makes the impact of inflation worse.
Another classic defence is blaming the victim. Krausert’s message indicates residents have asked for the programs and services that are represented in the budget over the years. Nobody on council seems to be asking questions like: Are these programs and services still relevant? Still required at the level provided or justified by the results? During times of financial challenge, families and businesses ask themselves these kinds of questions all the time.
Council appears to be driven by ideology rather than practical considerations. During budget deliberations, utility franchise fees were referred to as an independent source of revenue for the Town. However, utility service providers simply add it to their utility bills. The taxpayer still pays for it. Many municipalities do not even charge these fees for exactly that reason.
The recent decision by the council-dominated Canmore Community Housing board to increase the eligibility criteria for the ownership program to a family income of up to $250,000 with no limits on assets is a further illustration. This makes the vast majority of Canmore residents eligible for taxpayer subsidized housing. Unfortunately, it does not make it more available, it just makes the list longer. Perhaps it would be more productive to engage in meaningful discussions with federal and provincial governments to provide more affordable housing rather than somehow blaming them for downloading to municipalities.
While council has passed the budget, it does not mean it has to spend it all. Taxpayers should hold them to account for every important spending decision.