The City of Calgary's Financial Task Force
The City of Calgary's Financial Task Force
From 2015-2019 assessed values of non-residential properties in the downtown core fell and drove a shift in property tax responsibility to non-residential properties (outside of the downtown). After using short-term solutions Council directed City Administration to create a Task Force to provide a permanent resolution to the municipal tax share problem.
The Task Force met regularly from September 2019 to June 2020 and put forward 35 recommendations that were approved by Council in June 2020.
Task Force Recommendations Report
Municipal Fiscal Gap Report
Calgary needs to prepare for major change as the world and our city continue to experience social, economic, demographic, and environmental changes, such as the transition to a digital economy.
The City has been implementing recommendations of the Financial Task Force, including conducting a review of the municipal fiscal gap, exploring potential options to address the financial challenges The City faces, as well as emerging developments in other municipalities facing similar issues.
The report identifies the causes and severity of the municipal fiscal gap and the potential role of alternative revenue sources in addressing it. This report also includes the estimated downloading impact from the provincial government on City finances: an annual average of $311 million in increased costs or funding shortfalls due to adverse changes to cost-sharing or funding arrangements, expanded City roles without funds, and new unfunded City responsibilities.
We are at an early stage in exploring solutions to diversify revenue sources and reduce the reliance on property taxes while providing a more equitable and diversified approach to funding public services and achieving municipal financial sustainability.
This report is an important first step in our journey. Prior to embracing new tools, Council must have value-driven deliberations, using the proposed evaluation criteria. Ongoing dialogue with Council will guide decisions that enhance Calgary’s financial sustainability, which hinge on Council approval, legislative changes, and detailed implementation plans.
Learn more by reading the report.Municipal Fiscal Gap Report
Responding to tax volatility & economic cycles
In October 2022, Council received recommendations from Administration related to a number of topics raised by the Financial Task Force, including reports on:
- Property Tax Policy Framework
- Non-Residential Assessment Subclasses
- Assessment Smoothing
- Establishing Policy to Respond to Calgary’s Economic Highs and Lows
These reports highlight that Calgary’s budget-based approach to setting tax rates, used in most municipalities in Canada, remains the gold standard for transparency and tax stability. In addition, Council’s ability to adjust the distribution of property tax between residential and non-residential classes provides the most effective and efficient means to create tax stability, eliminating the need for legislative changes or costly investments. Further, Council’s direction to establish a countercyclical policy will enable The City to respond to economic highs and lows with timely tax policy and reserves-related solutions and actions.
Assessment smoothing and non-residential subclasses were considered as potential policy tools to address tax volatility. However, Administration’s investigations found that neither solution would have addressed Calgary’s unique context and would add significant complexity to the assessment and tax system, reducing transparency for Calgarians. These tools, where enabled by legislation, may be useful to address other problems that may arise in the future.
Council’s approval of these reports and recommendations supports Calgary’s strong financial management practices, proven capacity and ability to respond to external risks.
Council directed semi-annual reporting on the implementation of the Financial Task Force’s recommendations. Review the implementation updates below to see how we are working to strengthen The City’s financial system for the benefit of all Calgarians.
Administration has been reporting on 35 implementation deliverables. The Q2 2023 Final Update marked the end of the regular centralized semi-annual reporting on this program. At that time 29 of the 35 deliverables had been completed and the remaining six deliverables had longer implementation timelines. Administration will continue to advance the remaining Financial Task Force recommendations through departmental operations and future scheduled reports.
In November 2018, City Council identified the need for a Financial Task Force after changes in the economy, from 2015, resulted in a prolonged decline in demand for downtown office space and a growing supply of inventory that negatively impacted property valuations. This caused a significant redistribution of the tax base that these properties previously carried over to other properties.
Property taxes are the municipal finance backbone and play a vital role in funding the services citizens and businesses receive from The City. To respond to the challenge and support Calgary’s economic recovery and financial resiliency, the Financial Task Force was to identify and assess innovative solutions for short term mitigation, long term recovery solutions, and revenue options to improve financial resiliency for The City.
In addition to assessing the specifics related to the tax share issue, the Task Force’s mandate included examining potential alternative revenue sources that can improve Calgary’s financial resiliency in the long run. While the Financial Task Force’s scope is broad, specific items were out of the Task Forces’ scope, including:
- Recommendations targeted at cost control – to avoid duplication with the other initiatives underway, such as the Solutions for Achieving Value and Excellence (SAVE) Program.
- Recommendations aimed at reforming assessment processes and procedures, which were already underway following Council directed work by Heuristics Consulting.
The Task Force was led by The City’s Chief Financial Officer, Carla Male, CPA-CA as Chair and a consisted of a panel of twelve external members with expertise in policy formulation, business strategy, property valuations and finance.
Selected external members of The City’s Financial Task Force include:
- Heidi Conrad, CPA-CA
- JT Dhoot, AACI, CBV
- Dave Dunlop, CPA-CA, MBA, CFA
- Brian Hahn, BSME
- Sarah Lerner, CFA, MBA
- Annie MacInnis, MSc (Economics)
- Dave Mewha
- Lindsay Tedds, Ph.D. (Economics)
- Alan Tennant, EMBA, FRI, CAE
- Rene Wells, Ph.D., (Finance)
- Nizar Walji, CFA
- Mike Yuzwa, CPA-CA, CBV
Citizens with substantial experience in policy formulation, business strategy, property valuations and finance submitted an expression of interest in Q3 2019. The individuals listed above were selected based on an application process following a skills matrix that was part of the Terms of Reference (included in Attachment 1).
External members of the Financial Task Force received support from subject matter experts in Administration.
Our 8 focus areas
The Financial Task Force grouped the 35 recommendations into 8 focus areas
Improving understanding of municipal finance circumstances
Focus #1 combines recommendations 13, 14 and 23:
- Investigate cost recovery with the province (#13)
- Ensure funding for new services (#14)
- Enhance ongoing communications (#23)
Responding to Calgary’s cyclical economy using existing tools
Focus #2 combines recommendations 1-3, 4, 21, 24, and 30:
- Use evidence for decisions (#1-3)
- Respond to Calgary's evolving economy (#4)
- Leverage untapped revenue potential (#21)
- Assess the cumulative impact of decisions (#24)
- Incorporate information from process changes into a review of user fee levies (#30)
Bringing property taxation into the twenty first century
Focus #3 combines recommendations 11, 12 and 19:
- Use the guiding principles (#11)
- Make subclass legislation usable (#12)
- Distribute tax responsibility appropriately (#19)
Improving tax efficiency for long-term fiscal sustainability
Focus #4 combines recommendations 10, 25-27, 34 and 35:
- Focus on long-term fiscal sustainability (#10)
- Motivate increase in TIPP uptake (#25)
- Maintain annual assessments to anticipate the evolving economy (#26)
- High-quality info for the tax rate decision (#27)
- Explore tax reform over one-time measures (#34)
- Investigate multi-year property assessment averages to reduce volatility (#35)
Preparing for changes that would occur as the economy evolves
Focus #5 combines recommendations 5-8, and 22:
- Manage the transition to the new economy (#5-8)
- Identify revenue from the new economy (#22)
Making Calgary more competitive, livable and attractive
Focus #6 combines recommendations 18, 20, 28, 31 and 32:
- Balance livability and tax competitiveness (#18)
- Choose tax stability over volatility (#20)
- Quantify the cost and value of services and distribution of benefits (#28)
- Affirm preference for tax stability over service stability and respond appropriately (#31)
- Adjust tax rates for relief when needed and stabilize rates with reserves (#32)
Supporting regional economic development
Focus #7 combines recommendations 15-17 and 29:
- Support regional economic development (#15-17)
- Quantify the cost and value of services and distribution of benefits: incorporate findings into decision-making process for cost sharing arrangements with regional partners (#29)
Working better with partners in achieving progress
Focus #8 combines recommendations 9 and 33:
- Advocate for timely legislative change (#9)
- Investigate the crisis level vacancy in the downtown office market and respond with actions (#33)