Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pineview Terrace Funding - Why Not Look at All the Options?

The issue of how to fund the city's share of the Pineview Terrace construction costs was raised at last week's executive meeting. Administration brought us a number of options - a levy based on the assessed value of the property (as we're doing for the soccer centre), a levy on residential users only, or another flat tax across the tax base (either residential or one including commercial properties). All would be new hits on the tax payer.

Most members of council seemed to think that the flat tax option would be best. I don't like flat taxes. Because they aren't proportional, they are a heavier burden on low and fixed income earners, many of whom live in my ward. Council appears to recognize that flat taxes are inequitable when it comes to commercial properties, because even the current flat tax is graduated for commercial properties, based on value, but there doesn't seem to be the same recognition for residents.

It appears that we're likely to go with a flat tax of $27 for the next three years for residential properties, plus a graduated rate for commercial. Not much, on the surface, you might think. However, this is a city where some residents felt that a $20 annual licence fee for cats, brought in a year ago, was too much, and I've already had a senior from my ward call to express her concerns about the $27.

I proposed that, instead of dipping our hands once again into the tax payers' pockets, we instead divert some of the money that we're already collecting - a portion of the $60 flat tax that was imposed last year, and supposed to be reserved specifically for infrastructure projects. Although there was some pious talk about not using this money because it's supposed to be saved for infrastructure, it hasn't been. More than $1 million was collected through the flat tax last year - only $600,000 remains, because the remainder was used to balance the city's budget over the last year, not set aside. We could do this for three years, as proposed for the flat tax, and still put more than half of the flat tax revenue aside for other infrastructure reasons.

So why not specify that a portion of the current flat tax be set aside specifically to meet our Pineview Terrace obligation? While not solely a city responsibility, it is being built to meet the needs of the community. As is often the case, I didn't get a clear answer.

I'm afraid that, once again, we're going to go for the simplest, easiest answer. Need more money? The easiest way is just to slap on another tax. If we can keep it off the books as part of the official tax increase, all the better, especially in an election year. But all of these incremental costs, whether it be levies, flat taxes, or increased sanitation charges, add up.

Figuring out how to do things better and more fairly would require some innovative thinking. Not enough members of council seem prepared to take the time or make the effort to do that. And, as usual, the tax payer ends up paying.

"The path of least resistance is what makes rivers run crooked." - Elbert Hubbard

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