By Gerry Barker
June 18, 2018
Now let’s state clearly that the U of G is an important presence in the life of our city.
An economic impact study, commissioned by the university, reports a staff of some 12,000 employees. It appears to be the largest employer in town with 30,000 students located in three campuses – Guelph, the main campus, with an estimated 21,000 students. The remaining students are located in Toronto and Ridgetown.
The accounting firm KPMG produced the study revealing that $1.6 billion was injected into the Guelph regional economy. Presumably this contribution was spread through the three campuses of the university on a prorate basis.
The report does not break out the benefit specifically to the City of Guelph.
The first question one should ask is why is the university paying mega bucks attempting to prove its contribution to the economy of our city?
It reports that the students contribute some $370 million each year, chiefly within eight months with the greater majority attend the Guelph campus. The money is spent on living expenses and the study claims their presence employs some 5,000 local jobs. Again it is unclear if this include police, fire and EMS; transit workers; waste management personnel; city administration staff and public operations employees. Not counting the emergency services employees the city staff is composed of 2,200 Full-time Equivalent Employee (FTE) workers.
Without this support of Guelph taxpayers and city services, the University could not function.
The citizens of Guelph pay all their staff salaries and benefits through property taxes and user fees. Some 80 per cent of those costs are from the collection of property taxes.
Presuming the U of G is the largest landowner in the city, with an estimated 600 acres leased to a variety of commercial businesses, office enterprises and residential, what is its contribution to the city property tax budget?
Using the number of students in the KPMG study, the university’s obligation paying property taxes is a special system introduced in 1987 that permits a “bed tax” of $75 per student in lieu of properties based on assessment. Unlike us whose property taxes are reset annually based on council’s budget and adjustments in assessments.
This “bed tax” rate has not changed since introduced 31 years ago. I won’t ask the embarrassing questions about inflation, that affects all city citizens.
Based on a student population of 21,000, the University of Guelph pays $1,575,000 a year in lieu of property taxes based on the number of students.
Let’s compare this with what citizens pay for services
Using an estimated average tax bill of $6,000 times 50,000 on the city tax bill register that includes industrial and commercial properties; the city is receiving some $300,000,000 in property taxes.
But here’s the kicker. That estimate has grown every year since 2007 by some 3.5 per cent exponentially. When the residential industrial ratio is factored (84 per cent residential versus 16 per industrial), the residential property owners are subsidizing, by far, the tiny university’s property tax obligation.
The university enjoys the city services provided by the city with not having the “bed tax” indexed for 31 years.
Of course it’s not fair. And who really pays that “bed tax?” It’s the students seeing it rolled into their tuition costs.
Now this same $75 per student in lieu of property tax is applicable to every university and community college in Ontario.
It is almost impossible to calculate or comprehend how the residents in all those communities throughout the province are caught in this totally unfair situation.
It’s easy to calculate is the cost to Guelph property owners that eclipses the paltry property tax contribution of the biggest landowner in the city.
While the university blows its horn about is monetary contribution to the city and surrounding area, it conveniently leaves out the costs of running a city of 131,000 with services supplied 365 days a year such as water, waste management, emergency services, electricity, pubic transit, excellent hospitals and social services.
It has to be a bargain when all you have to pay for it is $1,575,000.
In fact, with all that cash coming in from leased lands and other enterprises, three years ago it was reported some $30 million underfunded the university staff pensions fund
I didn’t read about these items in this glossy report.
Okay, the old arguments will surface about how important the relationship exists between Town and Gown. But at what price?
A property tax deal that was not even indexed for inflation for 31 years when the city grew, costs escalated and there was increased demand for basic services.
And the University also grew during that same period but is still paying the same property tax as it did 31 years ago.
It should not be forgotten that our provincial income and sales taxes subsidize the post secondary institutions.
How much does the provincial government expect the citizen in those cities and towns to subsidize the post secondary institutions through their property taxes?
The University of Guelph has a unique advantage over most other post secondary institutions. As a former Agriculture and Vetrenary College, it owned acres of land at a time when Guelph was a small town more than 65 years ago.
In Guelph, this fixed, unfair property tax subsidy grows exponentially every year on the backs of the municipal property owners.