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April 2 2020

Letter to City Council: COVID-19 property tax relief for business owners

UPDATE: On 6 April 2020, City Council approved a deferral of property taxes, in line with our letter below, until 30 September 2020. This deferral is without late payment penalties; and the Tax Installment Payment Plan (TIPP) has suspended its 2% filing fee for taxpayers who join TIPP after January 1, which has been suspended until January 1, 2021.

Dear Councillors:

The COVID-19 outbreak continues to be a considerable public health and economic challenge for our city, and across Canada. We are under a provincial public health emergency, our city remains in a State of Local Emergency – in short, life as we know it has come to standstill in many ways.

The Calgary Chamber is actively supporting Calgary’s business community, and the residents they employ and serve, through this uncertainty. We are performing our role as an emergency partner to the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, contributing to the City’s Business Sector Support Task Force, and have made over 1,000 calls to the business community to learn more about their needs, and connect them with the resources they need.

Further to our calls to action in the fall, the COVID-19 outbreak makes the need for action on non-residential property taxes more urgent. We have heard consistently that businesses across Calgary – particularly small and medium sized businesses – are struggling with dramatic declines in revenue while having to still pay fixed costs, all the while trying to support their employees as best they can.

To support our business community, today, we call on City Council to approve:

  1. A deferral of non-residential property taxes paid annually on June 30, 2020 – with no penalty fee or interest charged – until October 2020.
  2. Recognizing these are extraordinary times, similar to the 2020 Municipal Non-Residential Phased Tax Program (PTP), announce a similar program due to the COVID-19 outbreak to lessen the burden of property taxes on Calgary businesses in 2021 to support our eventual recovery.
  3. Advocate for and help develop a COVID-19 Commercial Rent Strategy with the Government of Alberta. This strategy should focus on the following goals and deliver on these goals while emphasising ease of access:

We understand and are acutely aware of the unique challenges Calgary and all of Alberta face right now. In addition to the COVID-19 outbreak, oil prices have continued to plummet. Against this backdrop, we believe all levels of government must use all fiscal and policy tools at their disposal to provide businesses, and in turn the residents they employ, with the support they need through this outbreak.

This is imperative to position Calgary for recovery.

The recommendations above are practical and would provide Calgary businesses with the access they need to cash on hand, provide support in coping with commercial rent – an urgent fixed cost that needs immediate remedy – and a guarantee of reduced costs as recovery stretches into 2021. In particular, while we have been critical of the PTP program in the past, the ease of access – that non-residential property tax owners need not apply – at a time like this is a benefit because we believe government should utilize all the available tools in the short-term to ensure the city can recover in the long-term.

Further, an example we can look to is Edmonton. The City of Edmonton took an initial step in this direction by deferring Business Improvement Area levies this week to August 31, 2020, and we believe our City Council can provide even broader support by pursuing these recommendations.

We commend all levels of government for their coordination to help keep Canadians safe. It is critical that we “flatten the curve” to help mitigate the spread of the virus and adhering to the direction of our public health and emergency management authorities is key to achieving that goal. To that end, we know that both Calgary workers and businesses need considerable financial support in order to follow those directives and emerge from this crisis on our front foot.

Yours sincerely,

Sandip Lalli

President & CEO

Calgary Chamber of Commerce