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'This is reckless': Saskatoon city council torpedos proposal to hike business taxes

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An idea to shift a portion of Saskatoon's property tax burden towards businesses and away from residents was met with concern from some city councillors.

Ward 7 councillor Mairin Loewen recommended shifting the ratio between residential and business property tax, so businesses would pay more.

City administration said the ratio change would increase taxes for businesses by just over four per cent and drop residential property taxes by two per cent.

Councillors Darren Hill, Randy Donhauer and Troy Davies were among the councillors concerned about businesses not being consulted.

"This is not good governance. This is not the way that we do business," Hill, who represents Ward 1, said.

"This is reckless and I cannot support it."

“The biggest thing that makes me nervous about this, is that there isn’t one person to here that can speak to this and that's wrong,” said Donhauer, who represents Ward 5.

Loewen said her recommendation wasn't out-of-line and was initially brought up in September.

The councillor said her first opportunity to ask questions about a related report, and to move motions stemming from the report was on Wednesday.

"To hear colleagues cast aspersions on my intent, and on the legitimacy of the process, is offensive to me,” Loewen told the chamber.

"Our budget process is designed to allow us to ask questions and move motions based on the reports in front of us. This is not the only report that we are going to consider where a motion will arise and people in the community will not have previous notice."

Loewen said changing the ratio is "not a radical shift" and puts Saskatoon closer to the average of other Canadian cities.

“It’s a very reasonable thing for us to debate," Loewen said.

Davies worried the change could shut the doors of struggling small businesses, trying to recover from COVID-19.

"This would be a completely full chamber right now if I advertised that this conversation was happening today. And unfortunately, I wasn't given that opportunity,” Davies said.

Loewen’s motion was defeated. Council instead unanimously agreed to investigate the implications of altering business taxes, as well as tasking administration to look at creating a tax sub-class for small businesses — a move that would enable property tax tweaks that would only affect larger firms.

City councillors are spending three days to deliberate the budget for the next two years.

Councillors are searching for savings to cover a $52 million funding shortfall in 2024 and a $23 million gap in 2025 — largely attributed to inflation, although some on council feel the city should rein in its spending.

If councillors can’t find enough savings, the funding gap will fall on taxpayers. Currently, property taxes would need to increase more than seven per cent in 2024. 

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