By Gerry Barker
November 25, 2019
I was most interested in the priorities of last Monday’s council meeting to go over the staff recommendations for next year’s property tax rates. For most of us who pay property taxes it is an annual excursion in wonderland.
This year is no exception. The first published figure of estimating the 2020 property tax rate was 3.88 per cent and a hinted hat it may be 4.15 per cent.They it was reported the staff recommendation was 3.08 per cent.
Shiver my timbers captain! One news outlet reported that the property tax rates for the past four years were less than 3 per cent. The exception, the report stated, was in 2015 when the rate was 3.55 per cent.
Here’s why it is Wrong. The word is the provincial arms-length corporation known as the Municipal Properties Assessment Corporation, MPAC, sets property assessment.
MPAC is the largest assessment jurisdiction in North America, responsible for accurately assessing and classifying more than five million properties in Ontario in compliance with the Assessment Act and regulations set by the Government of Ontario.
Having downloaded that description of what MPAC corporate make-up, there is something you should know.
The former Liberal premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, suspended property assessments for five years. That ended in 2013. Next the MPAC organization restarted its property assessment responsibilities.
This was a huge task because of the five-year growth of properties that didn’t make the MPAC files.
Stop and think about the privacy aspects of this. The provincial government and who knows how many others. have access to a treasure trove of property addresses, location, who owns them, and there are more than 5 million out there.
Remember the good old days when the muncipalities had their own assessor who would answer to council. By my count, that required some 445 local assessors in Ontario municipalities to do the job.
But the provincial government decided it wanted to control property assessment. Wonder how many employees are doing the job today, not including the investment in computers, servers and operational costs.
Drivers start your engines
The increases were phased in starting in 2015. With five million properties you can imagine it was a daunting task. But regardless, it was a vital one for municipalities that benefited from the restoration. Increased assessment of property from tax purposes was an increase to the owner. Plus, it was a revenue booster to the municipality.
It’s usually adjusted in April without fanfare and council sees it as the price is right.
That’s why you pay two installments based on 2019 rate of increase then two more property tax installments that are higher due to the new year assessment increase adjustments.
Here’s how the system works.
Every minicipality is required to file a Financial Information Report (FIR) with the province. It is detailed financial data, signed by an independent audit firm, based on the calendar year.
The Guelph annual FIR is a thick book of data, unseen by the public, although for a fee, you can request a copy.
As a best seller, it is not.
In the year following an election, council, in 2015, passed a budget from that year requireing a property tax increase of 3.55 per cent, right?
The budget had to be revised in April 2015 and subsequent years to adjust the property tax which increased the rate that year to 3.96 per cent.
This unfortunate development proved to be an embarrassment to the new Mayor, Cam Guthrie. He had promised during his election campaign to keep property tax increases level with the Consumer Price Index set by StatsCan.
The news story was misleading on a couple of accounts. Increased assessment automatically increases taxes, and the rate plus the growing basket of property tax levies for infrastructure, city buildings and possibly the Guelph General Hospital’s $45 million five-year expansion plan. The hospital Foundation is requesting $4.5 million or ten percent of the total. It is proposed to be spent over five years
MEANWHILE – The Police Services Board is asking for a $4.1 million increase for 2020. This does not include any adjustment of the $34 million Police Headquarters renovation, scheduled to be completed next month.
MEANWHILE – Staff has estimated a tax funded operations budget of $256,886,524 that will be debated tonight starting at 6 p.m. Hey! Look at it this way: It gives you a chance to try out the new parking garage next to city hall.
MEANWHILE – Is there any life support remaining for building the downtown main branch library? Just remember that this council was the geniuses who gave away Guelph Hydro but can’t finance a new downtown library.
MEANWHILE – Why is the final tax funded operations budget meeting scheduled December 3 being held at 2 p.m? Is this another attempt to turn off the public interest tap?
MEANWHILE – What ever happened to the Guelph Innovation District project to build an environmentally perfect community on the reformatory lands? Perhaps our MPP Mike Schreiner, may look into the status. Is it sale or no sale?
MEANWHILE – On a final note, Donald Trump does not drink. Instead he substitutes anxiety and morality with a cocktail composed of a malignant narcissistic personality.