Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday September 28, 2023
Municipal Budget Woes: The Balancing Act Amid Rising Costs
In Ontario, municipalities are currently navigating treacherous financial waters, trying to maintain essential services while grappling with budget shortfalls. The pressures to raise property taxes loom large, but it’s a precarious path to tread, especially at a time when citizens are already stretched thin by rising inflation, borrowing costs, and a cost of living crisis. The recent budget discussions in Hamilton serve as a stark reminder of the anxieties that homeowners face.
Coun. Tom Jackson’s recent question in Hamilton hit a nerve: with skyrocketing property values since the last assessment in 2016, many homeowners feared their taxes would double or worse. The reality, as explained by Carmelo Lipsi, the vice-president and COO of the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), is far less dire. Reassessment doesn’t automatically double your taxes; it just redistributes the tax burden.
The reassessment process is based on a complex set of factors, including real estate activity, property size, location, and construction quality. When the reassessment occurs, it compares the change in your property’s assessed value to the average change for similar properties in your municipality. If your property’s increase exceeds the average, you may expect to pay more taxes; if it’s below, you might see a reduction.
In areas with rapidly rising property values, homeowners may face tax increases, while those in more stable areas could see a reduction. Additionally, area rating in Hamilton, where different parts of town pay varying amounts for different services, further complicates the tax calculation.
It’s crucial to note that reassessment isn’t the only factor affecting taxes. Council-approved tax increases also contribute to changes in property tax bills. However, the idea that reassessment alone could double or triple taxes is a misconception.
The situation isn’t unique to Hamilton. Brockville is also facing budgetary challenges, with inflation, rising costs, and unforeseen expenses impacting the 2023 budget. A reliance on fiscal policy reserves and the need to find sustainable revenue sources loom large.
Oshawa, on the other hand, is exercising Strong Mayor powers to expedite budget decisions as part of a broader commitment to building 1.5 million homes by 2031. While these powers grant mayors greater control over budgets, the impact on housing remains uncertain.
In Toronto, Mayor Olivia Chow’s proposal for a city sales tax was met with mixed reactions. The city faces a substantial budget shortfall, and while the sales tax idea seems off the table for now, it highlights the challenging choices municipalities must make to bridge budget gaps.
Ultimately, municipalities in Ontario are navigating a complex financial landscape, and their perennial default is often to seek support from other levels of government. Raising property taxes, while often necessary to fund essential services, must be done judiciously, considering the economic pressures on residents. The reassessment process may not be the doomsday scenario some fear, but it’s a reminder of the delicate balance that local governments must strike when managing budgets in trying times. The key is transparency, communication, and a commitment to ensuring the burden of taxation remains fair for all residents. (AI)