Premier Doug Ford opened this year’s AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) conference by announcing plans to download 30 per cent of public health costs and 20 per cent of the cost of creating new child care spaces. Both are presently provincial responsibilities. Of course, he wrapped up the downloading announcement in quite a pretty package. He’s just asking municipalities to help shoulder the burden of balancing the provincial books. He’s even offered them help by funding a full audit to find them savings. Quite a few of the eligible municipalities have taken him up on it. He made the same offer to school boards, with less luck. He also announced an actual increase in land ambulance funding instead of cuts. The province backed off on its intention to retroactively download some public health, child care and land ambulance costs onto municipalities this past spring, after municipalities protested that their budgets had already been set for the year. Last week’s announcement made it clear the reprieve was temporary. This is not a complaint about the big bad province balancing its budget on the backs of poor little municipalities. What it is, is a plea for a more fair tax model if our fears play out – that there will be more downloading. Provincial and federal taxes are levied on a system whereby those with higher incomes pay a higher percentage of taxes. Granted, this is not taking into consideration off-shore tax shelters. But it is fairer than property taxes. Our municipal system is based on British common law from centuries past when property owners would pool money to build roads and other infrastructure. Only wealthy people owned property in those days, of course. Fast forward to the present. Many large, older homes in communities like this one are owned by people who bought them when folks with modest jobs could afford to buy a home. They raised their children in it and planned to spend their retirement years in it. They assumed their small pensions would be enough. That was before Mike Harris gave municipalities a “tool kit” to fund the new responsibilities and expenses his provincial government downloaded onto them. Municipal re-assessment was one of the tools. All of a sudden, taxes on that big, comfortable old house were hitting the stratosphere while the pension cheque stayed the same. Some people held on by their toenails by postponing repairs, turning down the thermostat and even going back to work. Others gave up and sold out. Once again, we have provincial downloading and a new “tool kit” to help municipalities cope. And once again, the purpose is to squeeze more dollars from ratepayers to make up the shortfall. Some people will be fine – the ones who have every expectation of substantial salary increases. However, it’s hard to deal with taxes that are going up, using a pension cheque that isn’t. Budget deliberations for 2020 will be more of a challenge than ever, and hard decisions will have to be made. That provincially funded municipal audit will surely find services to cut. Will they be recreation programs that benefit low income people? Support for environmental projects? Social housing, perhaps? What about the employees who administer the programs? Without a doubt, service and job cuts will be accompanied by tax increases that will be potentially disastrous to a certain portion of the population, pensioners, mostly. Basing municipal taxes on an antiquated and inadequate system of property ownership isn’t going to cut it much longer. The time is fast approaching when municipalities, starting with large urban ones, will be pressing for the right to tax income. It has been said there is only one taxpayer. That isn’t true. There is the taxpayer with a valuable house but only a small income. And there is the taxpayer who has the house plus a growing income. What makes more sense to tax, the house or the income? The alternative is to keep taxing the living daylights out of home owners getting by on small incomes until they sell. Once they do, they’ll move away; local rental properties are few and far between, and expensive. Can this community afford to lose the people who run the service clubs, volunteer with the Legion, help out with the hospital auxiliary, babysit their grandkids so the parents can work, and so much more? Common sense says no.
Forget the tool kit – time to change the system By Pauline Kerr was last modified: August 27th, 2019 by