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Helsinki City Council lowers municipal taxes, eliminates dog tax in 2018 budget

Helsinki councillors decided on Wednesday evening to lower taxes in their 2018 budget, and to do away with early education fees for five year olds.

Image: Pixabay

Helsinki City Council agreed its 2018 budget on Wednesday, with the council supporting Mayor Jan Vapaavuori's first budget proposal.

"We were exceptionally of one mind on this. I hadn't experienced this kind of thing before," says the Council's senior advisor Risto Rautava.

He estimates that the budget proposal was very well prepared.

"We have also taken a cue from the Swedes. We are engaging in extensive dialogue, talking things over beyond party lines. This is surely one reason for the amicable council debate," Rautava says.

Four-billion-euro surplus

Helsinki is a wealthy city, comparatively, and this is apparent upon examination of the city's books. The current surplus is at four billion euros, with only 1.4 million euros in debt, which works out to just 2,157 euros per resident.

Centre-right National Coalition Party Mayor Jan Vapaavuori's budget proposal made a lot of promises. Early childhood education would be free to five year olds starting next year, and Helsinki schools would begin offering foreign language instruction already in the first grade.

The city is also planning to build more bike routes and expand the bike share programme's reach in the Helsinki area. Projects to counter growing inequality and discrimination will be better funded.

The City Council decided Wednesday evening to lower its municipal tax rate by half a percentage, with no dissent expressed on the floor.

No more extra fees for Fido in Finland

A bid to do away with Helsinki's tax on dogs, however, inspired a bit of debate.

"You are really king of the city if you can get rid of the dog tax," remarked Social Democrat councillor Ilkka Taipale, an avowed member of the council's unofficial cat contingent.

Only two cities - Helsinki and Tampere - continued to collect a dog tax in Finland, a practice that dated back to the 1800s.

There are an estimated 30,000 or so dogs in Helsinki, and last year just one quarter of the dogs' owners paid their annual 50-euro fee. The Finnish Kennel Club has lobbied for years that the dog tax should be eliminated, as other pets in Finland are not taxed.

Income from the dog tax has fallen year-on-year. Earlier in the century, the tax was still bringing in close to a million euros, but by this year that number had dropped to 350,000.

Helsinki's decision to drop the tax followed a similar decision from the Tampere City Council on Monday to do the same. This marks the end of the dog tax in Finland for the time being, although there is a national law decreeing it, so municipalities can still entertain the idea of reintroducing it.

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