by Councillor Jim Bertram
Our community is a thriving, energetic bundle of positive activity. Our recent Canada Day activities, and many others, bear this out. It’s a great place to be living. Most of us are very happy and proud to live here. And, if it’s not too much to say, we are proud to be paying taxes here to provide the services which help the municipality prosper.
The thing is, we could be just as proud if we paid half the taxes! I think most people would share that sentiment, if we could maintain our core municipal services for somewhat less in taxes than we currently pay.
Last week, a letter on this subject came to the Times from Catherine Armour, in which she alluded to increases in taxes which did not seem to be accompanied by an increase in services. Well, here’s what’s happening. The municipal government is affected by inflation like any other economic agent in our country. When prices go up, the municipality pays more for what it buys. Fairly straightforward.
But there’s more to it than that. The municipal government is not the only party which draws fiscal sustenance from the local municipal tax base. Our friendly, overspending provincial government, which would not know a priority if it saw one, is a major player in local tax increases. And the rate of provincial involvement in your rising municipal taxes is increasing.
So, how does this happen? Let’s understand something right now. Something more than 30% of our municipal budget is dictated from Toronto at this time. Yes, that’s right. Over the years, the pile-on of new responsibilities, regulations and laws created by the province, but paid for at the municipal level, has become onerous indeed, starting with the Harris regime in 1995 and continuing, nay accelerating, at this time.
Besides the usual heavy costs associated with infrastructure projects which strain the limited fiscal means of municipalities, many other items too numerous to list are added annually to municipal costs by the province without compensation.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario states in a recent report: “Municipal operating costs are growing at $1 billion annually, just to maintain current services. Costs are driven by factors such as rising insurance and electricity rates…, provincial legislation and areas like policing.” Hmmmm. How many of those sound like provincial areas of control ?
As far as legislation goes, let’s look at Ontario’s Proposed Asset Planning Regulation, or the omnibus bill style of legislation represented by Bill 68. The Rural Ontario Municipal Association is so worried about the fiscal impact of the first of those, that it has asked municipalities to pass a motion indicating opposition to the proposed Asset Planning regulation. Among the reasons stated is the following: “(The Regulation) will create a resource and fiscal strain on our municipality and others, more specifically small rural…communities that have limited staffing capacity, being the most vulnerable…to an increasingly burdensome regulatory environment.”
There you have it. How long before your municipal government just becomes a branch plant piggy bank for whichever party rules the roost in Toronto? How long are people going to tolerate provincial abuse of the already inadequate municipal tax system? I guess – for as long as they remain unaware of what is going on. Well, now you know, fellow citizens.
So, yes Mrs. Armour. I sympathise. I hope you and thousands, nay millions of property owners will let our provincial parties know what they think of this intolerable game being played at the provincial level. That would be a great step towards helping your beleaguered and hard-working local government keep taxes down. And who knows? Maybe you too could be just as proud paying less taxes than you now pay for the services you receive. Let the politicians know what you think. Remember, there IS an election coming up!