The next few articles will be attempting to deal with some of the issues presented by Capitalism run wild. This is the first of these.

The idea of a progressive, or fairer, property tax. 

In Calgary, as the system stands, property taxes are based on the assessed value of your home, run through a formula that then disgorges a tax bill. 

Now in what will probably come as a surprise, I'm going to suggest that property taxes based upon the value of a property are wrong. To increase taxes for anyone investing in their home/business/etc., or set a higher tax rate upon it, turns that asset into a liability. People that maintain and invest in their homes both make great neighbors (and if you've ever lived next to someone with a run-down trailer in their driveway, a few mattresses in their yard and a  pile of corn-cobs under their barbecue you'll understand), contributing not only to the value of their homes but the value of their neighbors, and generally speaking crime, drugs and other negative influences associated with poor areas are somewhat mitigated. As neighborhoods gentrify these effects are magnified, reducing the amount of policing, healthcare, and other related social services. It seems obvious, an enriched environment is an improvement upon an impoverished one, taxes should reflect this.

Secondly, property taxes should attempt to define the "direction" a city is going in, in Calgary, as with many other North American cities, that direction is Urban Sprawl, forever harvesting outlying arable lands to be used in low density suburbs. Some of the many objections I have to this:

  • Generally said suburbs are ugly, low density places to live that require constant consumption of resources, both in the commute to/from work, but as well in the foraging for and delivery of groceries and entertainment.
  • The further a suburb is away from the core of the city, the more in consumes of it's resources, both in terms of the delivery of services - such as Gas, Electricity, Water, Sewage, Cable, Internet, Public Transport etc. and in maintenance. As it stands the property taxes do not reflect this, inner city homes, factoring in for desirability, pay the same or more as the farthest flung houses on the outskirts of the city.
  • Quite simply, we're losing arable land and our wild places to maintain the illusion of infinite resources. Land is not, however, infinite, nor are things like water, gas and electricity, which the suburbs consume at a far greater rate than higher density inner city homes.

What I propose is this. Firstly, to encourage higher density living nearer the core of the city, property taxes be based upon the square footage of a property at ground level. As the property rises up (vertically) square footage increases, but the taxation rate drops for each subsequent story added to any structure. 

In it's simplest form, a 1500 square foot infill on a 1500 square foot lot pays double the property tax that a 1500 square foot infill on a 750 foot lot pays. There is no factoring in for the perceived or assessed value of the home, taxes are assessed purely on the size of the lot.

Secondly, the city be divided into zones, a sort-of bulls-eye pattern that increases taxes the further you are away from the core. This reflects the increased costs of delivering and maintaining those services like electricity, water, sewage, etc. 

Thirdly, the city should have a system whereby vacant, untenanted and undeveloped properties pay substantially higher taxes than those that are occupied. This is a logical workaround to landlords and property owners that lower the value of neighborhoods with unkempt and untenanted properties, as well as preventing any perversions of the supply and demand economy that occasionally sees landlords keep properties vacant to artificially inflate prices. In any urban environment, higher density is generally correlated with lower overall costs both to the city and the citizen, and a better quality of life.

Transitioning from the current system to the one I propose would be simple, although not timely, but a gradual transitioning would more efficiently manage and preserve our environment and resources, deliver more efficient public transport, more interesting urban architecture, a richer culture, reduce consumption and a host of other benefits, too many to list here.

Just an idea...