Thursday, July 22, 2010

Job City before Transit City

The Graph speaks for itself. Traditionally transit ridership is correlated with employment, not population density. The graph shows this tight relationship. This trend diverged somewhat starting in 2003. This coincides with escalating oil prices and is a trend seen throughout NA. Transit expansion in Toronto, to be utilized, is going to require employment expansion. Without it, it is a waste of money.

Toronto Poised to sit out on economic expansion- Again

While Toronto sat out the last round of economic expansion, never having employment levels return to 1989 levels, it appears ready to repeat this feat of stupidity.

Looking at the most recent Toronto economic indicators it shows Toronto three month unemployment rate average (seasonally adjusted) went from 10.2% to 10.6% in the last twelve months. The Toronto CMA (including Toronto) the rate went down, from 9.7% to 9.5%. Keep in mind that the CMA had declining unemployment despite having Toronto’s increasing unemployment included in the figures.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Forest through the trees and Budget through the condos

If one was to see all the development activity going on in Toronto, they would be hard pressed to assume anything other than this city is booming. In fact, there was a recent Toronto Life article about just that. Things, as they often are, are not as they appear.

Toronto has been in a persistent budget crisis for what seem like forever. Every year we are warned that this city is on the verge of a calamity. The cause for this, as least by what we are told, is due to underfunding from upper levels of government. There is some merit to that. But that is not the only reason.

Residential development itself is hastening the city's deteriorating financial health. How can that be you ask? Wouldn't the addition of new tax paying developments help the city out by providing additional revenue? Yes, and more importantly No. Nearly all development in Toronto over the last twenty years has been residential. Residential development does expand the tax base, but it also greatly adds to the city's costs.

If the added costs exceed the added revenue then things will get worse, which is what they are doing. So how do we know if new development adds more expense than it generates in revenue. First off, upfront costs associated with new development is paid for from development fees. These fees cover the costs to expand water, sewer, transportation and other fixed assets needed to service them. The issue at hand is what ongoing services cost and do they scale with density.

A large portion of the Toronto's spending does not scale with density. In fact there is much research that shows large city's are not cheaper, ie. that they do not benefit from economies of scale. Looking at Toronto, new residents increase the need for larger police, fire and EMS departments. Plus more Libraries, parks and recreation, health services etc.

In a report titled "Are Ontario Cities at a Competitive Disadvantage Compared to U.S. Cities?", Toronto's Dr. Enid Slack compiled some data regarding the costs associated with providing municipal services in Toronto. In the year 2000, it reports that the cost to provide Transportation (not public Transportation) , public safety, Sewage, Water Solid Waste, Parks and Rec, Admin, and Libraries at $1,553 per person in Toronto. Per household this would equal approx. $3,800. These are not programs downloaded on the city. These are traditional municipal services. On average the city received $2,200 (not incl. the education portion) in property taxes per household. Seeing that these services are primarily for residents and not greatly consumed by businesses it is obvious that the residential sector is being subsidised.

While that is typical, most cities charge higher taxes to business properties than residential, it does create a major caveat. If growth in the residential sector is not matched by equivalent increase in the non residential sector the imbalance will increase. With property taxes already so high on non residential properties, the city has had virtually no growth in this sector. Except for four large projects, all which received a preferential tax rate, they has been nothing to offset the growth in the residential sector. The city is constrained by both reality and policy, in being able to increase non residential taxes, at the same time it is under pressure to keep residential taxes in line with inflation.

Toronto needs to have growth in the portion of the tax base that generates excess revenue. So long as there is an increase in the proportion of the class of properties that consume more than they produce in revenue, Toronto will still be chased by a financial snowball.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Duke's Revisited

A few years ago, a fire on Queen St. West (near Bathurst) destroyed a number of buildings. Among them was was the property 623-625 Queen St. West, owned by the Duke family. The building housed there own store, Dukes Cycle, and above there were some rental apartments. The old building was paying property tax of (commercial portion) $8,671 per year, based on a 2008 CVA assessment of $654,975. This amount was only 32.6% of the full tax rate, as it was protected by a cap. Unprotected the tax would climb to $ 26,598 per year. The cap was set to diminish over the years until 2016 when all properties in Toronto would be taxes at the full CVA rate. Now, with the building destroyed, any new building will face paying taxes at the full CVA rate. As such the viability of the commercial space is in question.

Councillor Adam Vaughan has been working diligently to help address the difficulties in the redevelopment of these properties. This is what he found….

” Through the process of working with the six property owners of these buildings in the aftermath of the fire, I have discovered that any new buildings constructed on the fire site would pay property taxes at the full CVA rate, and would be ineligible for capping protection. The reality of the significant tax increases facing these property owners threatens the viability of redeveloping these properties with street-related commercial uses. The longer the fire site remains vacant, the more severe the social and economic impacts facing Queen West and the broader neighbourhood become. This is why it is in the City’s interest to facilitate a timely and appropriate replacement of the lost fabric of this street. ”

Think about this. It is not viable to rebuild commercial space on Queen West, on land that is already owned. If the redevelopment of these properties had included the need to purchase the land also, it would have only compounded the problem and made it even more un-viable. The added cherry on top is that the calculation of the new tax burden were based on the 2008 MPAC assessments. In the case of Dukes cycle (623-625 Queen St. West) it was woefully under-assessed. The 2008 assessment has these properties valued at $ 654,975.00. As someone who is very familiar with the area, this assessment does not reflect the market. The Cameron house, a much smaller building of similar age is currently listed for more than 2 million. In light of this it is fair to say that being un-viable at a full CVA tax rate of $ 26,598 per year, think about what might happen with a more realistic assessment. If the commercial portion of the assessment was updated to a more realistic 1.5 million, the taxes would rise to more than $60,000 per year.

How sad. It is barley viable to rebuild commercial space on Queen West, one of the most vibrant retail streets in Toronto, on land that is already owned. With a undervalued assessment and a million dollars in insurance money. If the redevelopment of these properties had included the need to purchase the land, had a realistic assessment, and a greater need for financing, the notion to rebuild would be dead in the water.

If your wondering about how a property that is un-viable retain it value, there is a answer to this. MPAC!. MPAC will heavily rely on comparable sales, instead of income, for valuing small properties. On the one hand, this makes sense. Market value is reflected by recent purchases. What MPAC does not do is account for two extremely important issues. Firstly, there is the speculative value of such properties. Properties such as these sell at a premium to their value if one was to rely solely on projected income (Cap values). The reason for this is their value is not captured in there present form, but once they can be converted to residential condos. Secondly MPAC is oblivious to the fact that the rate of tax itself has an effect on value. Even though this is a well covered area in academia and reality….


Thursday, September 18, 2008

How did this happen....

How did Toronto get to the point that during a very long period of world wide economic growth it could not create a single job? Why is the city a quarter of a million jobs behind its own estimates? How did Toronto's surrounding municipalities create over 750,000 jobs in that period?

Blake Hutcheson, chair of Toronto's Independent Fiscal Review Panel sheds some light on the issue...........

Toronto has the highest-taxed offices in the world. It is the lowest-taxed residential city in the country. That isn’t right. Why is it that way? Because for years councillors have been afraid to do the right thing, at the expense of business. The status quo just isn’t working. A lot of councillors told us that they fundamentally agree with a strong mayor system, but not with this mayor. To me, that’s shortsighted. If the mayor has enough rope to hang himself, if he shouldn’t be here, let democracy play its course, but at least give him the rope. If I were a councillor and opposed this mayor, I would definitely vote for a strong mayor system, because I would want to give him enough rope and if he can’t deliver, then the city can make a change. If I were for him, I’d also definitely go for it, because it would allow him enough latitude to effect the necessary change. If you’re in the middle, then maybe you can debate the pros and cons. The reality is there are an awful lot of councillors who would rather see the city fail, go into further debt and further derail good programs because they gain political points.........

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hopeful signs from the Mayor

The one year report

It is comforting to see that Mayor Miller has realized just how large and widespread of an impact Toronto's current tax climate has had. I am delighted to see that this report does not candy coat the impact of the current climate. Now with this realization lets hope that this new found urgency will translate into action and put Toronto back on track.

quotes from the report........

It started as a whisper, “Did you hear, that multi-national software company just announced a major investment”– but it wasn’t in Toronto. We shrugged and life went on. Next, there was an occasional article in the daily paper, “Major corporations merge to expand market-share” – but it wasn’t in Toronto. We shrugged and life went on. Until, finally, the whispers became a roar and suddenly everyone was talking about employment sprawl, traffic congestion, and under-employment in Toronto. If we continue to shrug and ignore these warning signs of economic decline, we do so at our peril. As members of the Mayor’s Economic Competitiveness Advisory Committee, we, like many other Torontonians, are noticing some disturbing trends in our city. The economic success that characterized Toronto during the latter half of the twentieth century has become a historical fact rather than a constant characteristic of our city. We’ve seen other cities that years ago were playing catch up to our lead, surpass us in terms of economic growth.

Without continued economic growth, no city can maintain and attract investment, including highly mobile capital and labour. The worst thing we can do is to do nothing. If the status quo continues, we risk being caught in a downward economic spiral of higher taxes, declining services, loss of jobs and less prosperity.

The bad news is that the job growth is happening in the region surrounding Toronto, not in the city itself. This means that while more and more people live in Toronto, increasingly, they must travel, usually by car, to jobs outside the city. And, it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that because of the employment boom outside of Toronto, that median household income in the Toronto region is higher than within the City of Toronto itself, where over the twenty year period of 1980 to 2000 the number of low-income households increased from 18 per cent to 22 per cent of all households in the city.

Employment growth within the city is important for fiscal, social and environmental reasons. A shrinking business and property tax base diminishes Toronto’s ability to adequately provide the social services and other public amenities that are the hallmark of a just and caring society.

Environmental Impacts of Office Location
Annual Impact Downtown Toronto Surrounding Regions
Transit trips 634,800 57,363
Auto kms. 3,259,300 11,153,700
Fuel use (l.) 291,025 995,925
Emissions (kg.) 940,800 3,129,500

Then, there are the personal stresses of long commutes stuck in traffic gridlock to drive to a job that go hand in hand with increased fuel consumption and increased emissions that contribute to environmental stress. It also means that people who do not have access to a car have reduced access to job opportunities. Toronto runs the risk of becoming a “bedroom community” if we don’t take action now.

So there you have it. Toronto's over taxation of non residential properties admittedly only provided a short term means to keep residential taxes artificially low. Now that the effects are becoming undeniable, shrinking assessment base, poverty pollution and a negative effect on quality of life the city is starting to act.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Good News = Bad News

The latest Cordon Count figures are out!

First the good news, Toronto's 'Gridlock' is getting better. Continuing the trend that has been going on for over a decade. Transit ridership into the downtown core has held steady since the last count. Vehicle traffic into the cor is down by 11%. No matter how one chooses to look at it, gridlock and congestion is improving in the core.

Now the bad news. The good news for gridlock and congestion is a symptom of Toronto's decay. Fewer jobs in the city means less need to travel into it. Maybe taxing businesses to death is part of the city's environmental program?

selected quotes;

The growth in vehicle trips between the ‘905’ regions has been particularly strong. This growth has been fueled by rapid expansion in population as well as new employment centres that have located in the ‘905’ region. Additionally, new high speed and major transportation infrastructure such as Highway 407 that straddles the ‘905’ region has contributed to this growth. As a result, reverse commuting and cross commuting patterns have become more predominant than was observed in 1991. The Central Area Cordon has actually recorded a slight decrease in vehicular trips in the peak direction (inbound), which is testament to the fact that new employment has been locating outside the traditional downtown, in areas which are relatively more accessible by a high speed road network. Total transit ridership from and to the Central Area Cordon was relatively stable from 2001 to 2006.

The only screenline that showed a decrease for both the total count period and the combined peak period was the Central Area Cordon. The Central Area Cordon experienced a decrease of 11% during both the combined morning and afternoon peak period and the total count period.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Death by fire, then death by taxes.

Small Business facing $75,000 increase in taxes

Dukes Cycle, long a fixture on Queen St. West, after being destroyed by fire is now threatened with destruction by taxes. Because the building has been in the Dukes family's ownership for a long time, its taxes were based on old assessment. According to the Globe and Mail, they were currently paying $15,000 per year. If that property was was to be rebuilt it would have to pay the new rates. $90,000 per year!

Anyone who has been to Duke's would shake their head and wonder how they, or any other small business can afford to operate in Toronto.

While the city talks about helping small businesses, fifteen year, now seven year plans, it is still to little.

Even at the end of the tax reduction plan they still face a tax bill huge tax bill. It is funny how Toronto wants to stop Walmart from building in the city while at the same time having a tax climate that only such large stores can afford. I would even go so far as to say that the high tax burden has some benefits for such large stores. By helping kill off small businesses and limiting competition they have the market to themselves.

While local councillor Adam Vaughan, is working on an abatement for Duke's what about all the rest of the city?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Wow what a difference !

While the three post blow this detail how much less tax Toronto residents pay than their neighbours, this one will look at how much more the city spends per household.

Using 2006 data from the Municipal Performance Measurement Program it shows that Toronto spent $8,422 per household in 2006. On the other hand Mississauga and the region of Peel combined, spent $3,848.29 per household.

So the average household in Mississauga pays more than $500 per year in property tax than the average household in Toronto and gets $ 4,573.71 less in services.

While property tax is only one source of revenue for cities, it is the largest. Cities also receive User Fees and Provincial grants. Note though that user fees are also higher outside the 416 area.

If you don't live in Toronto but do in the 905 region, perhaps you should call your MPP and demand equal subsidisation from the Province

Taxes hit you where you live

The article linked to in the headline is self explanatory.

A cool tool from the Star

Property tax calculator

Royson James looks at TO's Property tax

Royson James of the Toronto Star has had a look at The artificially low tax rates paid by Toronto's residential taxpayer.

and a follow up piece

Below are some quotes from the two......

Toronto homeowners just may be the most pampered, tax-sheltered, spoiled-rotten ratepayers in the GTA.

The owner of a $380,000 home in Pickering pays $4,270, while the Bramptonian pays $3,729 and residents of Markham, Mississauga or Vaughan pay more than $2,922.

Toronto's neighbours wonder how Mayor David Miller can cry poor but refuse to tax Toronto homeowners at rates comparable to their municipal cousins.

Using comfortably tortured logic, Miller gets away with it. First he says Toronto homeowners can't afford higher property taxes so he must find other revenue sources, like the land transfer tax. But when critics say that will dampen the housing market, he argues that Toronto taxes are already low so the new taxes shouldn't hurt.

Apparently, the truth hurts – even where it might be celebrated.

How else to explain the outcry over yesterday's Star story that show property taxes are a sweet little deal for Toronto homeowners, compared with other GTA cities and towns.

A $380,000 home pays $5,745 taxes in Oshawa, $3,729 in Brampton and $2,322 in Toronto, the figures show.

Employing another measure used by each city – the average assessed home – the disparity remains. The average Richmond Hill home at $400,000 pays $3,169; the average Toronto home at $369,300 pays $2,256; and the average Oshawa home at $275,000 pays $4,157, almost twice the Toronto amount.

So all the arguments about small lot, big lot, number of bathrooms, amenities, urban sprawl, densities, cost to provide service, and others don't account for the discrepancy. Pick any benchmark house price and Toronto is low. Take the average home, and Toronto is low.

Setting aside comparisons with other GTA municipalities, the Toronto homeowner pays property taxes at a rate four times lower than Toronto tenants and business. Businesses don't vote and protest and write letters to the editor and cry over every percentage of tax hike; they vote with their feet and leave, if they can.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Vindicating South of Steeles

Blue Print

Final Report
The Mayor's Fiscal Review Panel

Within the well done report are a number of findings that echo my postings here at South of Steeles. Below are some snipets........

"For example,
long-standing manufacturing facilities within the City have been challenged
by globalization — free trade agreements, fluctuations in exchange
rates, and rapid technological change. Many have closed or relocated from the
City areas to surrounding municipalities, eroding the City’s industrial tax base.
The resulting damage has put pressure on Toronto’s commercial property tax
rates (currently the highest in the world for class A office space, according to a
recent study by CB Richard Ellis), with the effect of driving businesses to other
parts of the region. A recent study by REALpac shows that both Toronto’s and
Vancouver’s commercial-to-residential property tax ratio are tied at approximately
5:1 for the years 2004–2006. By comparison, Mississauga’s ratio is
approximately 2.6:1."

"Another option is simply to raise rates on existing residential taxes. There is
plenty of evidence to show that Toronto’s residential property taxes are very
low compared to the 905 region and other cities across the country. This has
often infuriated the Province, which does not feel the politicians in the City of
Toronto have done enough on this front. It certainly has aggravated business,
which has been asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of the tax burden."

"RECOMMENDATION: The City must take a multifaceted approach to
growing revenues including encouraging intensification through zoning
changes, less red tape, user fees, exploring with the Province the possibility
of new regional transportation related levies, and adjusting its real property
taxes to bring them in line with competing jurisdictions."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tax and Sprawl

Lawrence Solomon had some interesting comments in a Financial Post editorial.

Some excerpts below:

Property taxes might have been expressly designed to encourage production of greenhouse gases......

Residents of New York, for example, generate just 29% of the per-capita emissions that Americans as a whole produce. London does even better in eschewing emissions, besting New York by 20%. Canada's major metropolis, Toronto, cannot hold a candle to either city, with per-capita emissions 35% above New York's and 62% above London's.........

Instead of welcoming the inherent efficiency with which valuable downtown properties are used, cities punish them by taxing them on the basis of their high property values, rather than the actual costs of providing properties with municipal services. The tax on valued property encourages the use of low-value property further and further away, not just away from downtown but also in suburbs and beyond........

And worse. Businesses pay especially punitive property taxes, encouraging them to relocate outside the city boundary, and then commute into town to provide services to their city customers. After they leave, their staff and suppliers tend to follow them over time, contributing to the well-known hollowing out effect that cities experience. The hollowing out worsens because, when these taxpayers leave the city, the tax load must fall on the city's remaining taxpayers, increasing their tax burden and encouraging further departures......

The last point is especially interesting in that I have raised this point with city councillors before. Higher taxes are coming to Toronto. Whether they sift the burden away from or watch business stagnant and or leave, higher taxes are coming.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Steve Munro's Heaven or Hell ?

I wonder what Steve Munro would make of this?
(not really, tongue and cheek)
It really could go either way.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Toronto cannot afford to grow

So thankfully it is not?

Looking at the figures reported on by the Toronto Star it shows that the city spends on average $ 8,282.00 per year per household. At the same time the city of Toronto's own budget background paper shows that it collects an average of $ 2,176 per household in property taxes. Based on the city average assessment of $ 369,300. The difference is covered by user fees, Provincial and Federal Grants, plus other income like rental fee and permit and TTC fees, etc.. Traditionally these extra fees provide the city with 28% of its revenue. So for every new household the city adds its expenditures must rise by an average of $ 8,282 to keep service levels the same. This means that for every new household (average 2.55 persons) the city finds itself with a shortfall of $3,787 per year ($8,282-$2,176-$2,318.96).

This means that between 2001 and 2006 when Toronto's population grew by 22,529 it needed an additional $33,457,773 per year by 2006 to cover the additional expenses of new residents.

While the current status quo has been achieved by having the non residential tax base pay much higher levels of taxes, using the reserve funds and additional monies from other levels of government, all these sources seem to have been tapped out.

The Province has little room and will to increase its transfers to Toronto, as it already gives the city more money than others in Ontario. Likewise the the Federal Government has indicated that it is not going to increase it funding in any way outside of one time capital projects. On top of all this the city has exhausted its ability to raid its reserves. Its cupboards are bare. Lastly the city cannot afford to increase its nonresidential taxes. They are already the highest in the country and North America. Any attempts to increase them will further erode assessment values and increase the number of business that have already left for more friendly environments. This leaves the city with one choice, the extra cost of adding new residents will have to be absorbed by existing residents as well.

The only saving grace here is that the city has missed its growth targets. If they city had grown by the projected amount of 131,966 it would be $195,982,448 worse off than it already is.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

250,000 more people from Toronto now working in the 905?

It would be an interesting exercise to extrapolate how many more people in Toronto must go to work in the 905 region during 2000-2006. Using figures from the Vital Signs report published by the Toronto Community Foundation, it is hard not to conclude that a large portion of the job growth in the 905 region must be filled by Toronto residents. In the 905, the employment base grew by 28% while population grew at 9%. Using historical employment figures (jobs = 50% population), the 905 went from having an employment base of 2,341,448 million in 2000 to 2,973,638 in 2006. This gives an increase of 632,190 jobs in the 905 region. At the same time population grew by 430,252 persons. Again using the 50% historical average that means that 417,064 (632,190-(432,252*50%)) of those jobs must have been filled by people living outside of the 905 region. I think that it would be a fair assumption that more than half of those were filled from Toronto.

Until Toronto reverses this exodus it will continue to find itself in a worsening position, as the commercial / industrial base is what subsidises the residential base.

On the other hand maybe people in the 905 region have to work two jobs in order to pay the much higher property tax which is a result of getting $2,100 per household less per year and those In Toronto.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Toronto - Can will kill the Golden Goose faster?

Currently, commercial / industrial property taxes, being the highest in North America, have chased away development and jobs, how does the city react?

Lip service.
Despite the cities Enhancing Toronto's Business Plan, which limits increases of property taxes to 1/3 of residential increases, look at the cities response.

During consultations, public opinion was that non-residential taxes should be the same to twice that of residential ones and this should be achieved in 1 to fifteen years. The city decided to reduce rates to 2.5 times over fifteen years. Limiting any increases in taxes to the non residential classes to 1/3 of the residential class.

Once Granted new taxing powers by the City of Toronto Act, the first proposed new tax, the Land Transfer Tax, violates that spirit.

It is also easy to find on the cities own website the common refrain that the city needs to be able to access its entire tax base. What that means is that because the province has deemed the cities non residential tax rates as being nearly four times higher than what is considered fair and limited the amount of increases, they still want to increase them more.


commend the Province for softening the cap on commercial and industrial property tax rates and ask the Province to provide all municipalities with full access to the entire property tax base;

The 2002 recommended budget included a potential 4.8 per cent tax increase for 2002 as a result of the provincial requirement that Toronto only apply tax increases to homeowners and not the business tax base. The recommended increase in taxes paid by homeowners would be reduced to 1.7 per cent, less than the rate of inflation, if the City had the ability to look at the commercial/industrial sector when considering an increase in municipal taxes

This must change. We need the province to bring forward changes to allow us to tax the entire tax base. This modest tax increase must not be solely carried on the backs of seniors and fixed income individuals but must also include the billion dollar multi-national corporations that call Toronto home.

The province can change Bill 140 and give Toronto access to the entire tax-base, removing the burden of placing any increases solely on the residential

The city just doesn't get it.

In the context of the previous posting I would like to point out why I think that Toronto just does not understand the source and depths of tis problems.

Toronto's tax policy towards commercial and industrial properties has caused an exodus to the 905 region. As the Vital Signs report (previous post) shows. The 905 region experienced an increase in employment of 27.2% while the population grew by 9.2%. What this shows is that a number of those new jobs must be taken by people outside of the 905 region. Namely Toronto. How does the city reconcile this with it's public transit plans? How do the poor, without cars, likely living in overtaxed rental housing, get to the jobs that the city chased away to the 905 region?

First off , it should be noted that the city has done some research on this issue. A report done by Hemson Consulting on behalf of the city, you really must wonder if they grasp the concepts of economics. One of the comparisons in the report is that of constructing a new office building in Toronto compared to Mississauga. Even though the land cost 55% more in Mississauga (which in itself is indicative of fundamental problems) it is economically unfeasible to build such a office in Toronto while it is in Mississauga. Also it shows that even though Toronto commercial property tax rate is 59% higher, by means of devaluing the assessment, the city only generates 2% more tax revenue. All the while it misses out on the development and other charges which net the city a lot of revenue.

Toronto - Vital Signs Absent

The Toronto Star has just reported on its annual Toronto checkup;
Vital Signs 2007: Toronto's annual checkup .

This really should be a wake-up call for all. Some of the statistics are alarming, such as the ones in here......

Region grows, Toronto stalls


The population of Toronto in 2006 was 2,503,281, up only 0.9 per cent since 2001, far less growth than had been projected.

From 2000 to 2006, the number of jobs in Toronto declined by 1.6 per cent.

Over the past 10 years (1996-2006) natural increase in Toronto's population (birth minus deaths) has fallen by 49 per cent.


The region as a whole is growing in both population and prosperity.

The region is home to 42 per cent of Ontario's population and contributes 47per cent of its gross domestic product.

In 2006, the population of the region was 5,113,149, up 9.2 per cent since 2001 (4,682,897).

From 2000 to 2006 the number of jobs in the region excluding Toronto grew by 27.8 per cent.

The fact that Toronto and the surrounding regions are moving in opposite directions points to poor policy.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What did we miss?

A. 100 million dollars.

How much has been siphoned off of Toronto's non residential tax base in terms of assessment values and new development? And what has this cost the city in missed revenue?

It is an important question in regards to assessing tax policy. Nearly seven years ago, the City of Toronto Urban Development Services commissioned a report entitled "The Future of Downtown Toronto" ( ). Seeing that the city is in some dire straights regarding its financial position I thought a review of some of the potential pitfalls that were warned about would be in order. Referring in particular to Background Section 3 - A note on Commercial Property Taxes. As the report warned, there was the potential for firms which did not require being in the 'core' from leaving the city. As it appears, Toronto has been not been able to retain theses firms. Over the last decade and a half the 905 region has gained over 800,000 jobs while Toronto has lost over 100,000. By not being able to retain and attract these firms, with the resulting loss of a tax base that generates positive cash flow, the city has paid a high price. Much like how the TTC's increase in ridership has increased its costs, even after it collecting more in fares. Toronto is in the same position, every new resident or household increases the amount of subsidisation required. The city is in the unenviable position of not being able to afford to grow. There seems to be an inevitable shift occurring that may accelerate the problems.

According to city hall, Toronto has two types of properties. Those that generate positive cash flow (the city provides less service than what they pay for) and those that generate negative cash flow. These two classes align themselves directly with the non-residential and residential property classes respectively. The cost of the reduction in non-residential assessment base (generators of positive cash flow for the city) must be shouldered somewhere. If that cost is to remain within the non-residential class it will hasten the exodus of the remaining companies.

What if instead of losing 100 thousand jobs during 1989 to 2004, if Toronto could have kept pace with the surrounding regions what would that meant? A quick calculation and completely unscientific calculation shows that Toronto would have gained about 300,000 jobs instead of losing 100,000 for a difference of 400,000. Seeing that the current average assessment per employed person in Toronto is approx. $43,000 that means that the assessment base might be 17.2 billion dollars smaller than it would have been had Toronto kept pace. Of course the only way that would have happened was for Toronto to be tax competitive with its neighbours. Believe it or not, all that would have taken was a 12.5% reduction in non residential property tax. This is because as taxes are reduced values rise so the cost of cutting taxes in half for already heavily taxes properties ends up being only 12.5%.

OK, now reduce the income on the existing 50 billion in commercial / industrial properties and add back 15 billion (17.2 billion less 12.5%) and there is a net growth of 8.75 billion dollars. This would have provided the city with nearly 100 million extra in property tax per year.

What a wasted opportunity!

It seems that higher residential property taxes are inevitable, the only choice seems to be do they come earlier while keeping jobs or later when they are gone?

EBay vs. Bricks and Mortar


The Canada Revenue Agency has won a Federal Court order requiring eBay Canada Ltd. to turn over the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all high-volume sellers on the popular website. The CRA wants to find out whether those individuals or companies are reporting the income they made from online sales in 2004 and 2005.

Now, if the city of Toronto wanted to be fair, they could also charge the same amount of property tax as they do other commercial properties. That would certainly raise a lot of revenue.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Toronto threatened to pay similar taxes as neighbours!

Finance chief lays out doomsday scenario

Homeowners could face 'worst-case' property tax hike

Toronto's chief financial officer warns of 20% tax hike

Even if this happens, Toronto would still have rates lower than its neighbours. Look at the chart linked to in the previous post. Even with a 20% increase Toronto's tax rate would be less than Mississauga's and Vaughan's. In fact Toronto would go from having the lowest rate to the third lowest rate.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Comparing tax rates.

While tax rate information is available on most cities web sites, the city of Milton has put together a PDF chart that list all of the rates in the GTA (link). Toronto has the lowest residential rates at .5888434 %, after removing the provincial education portion (.264%) . The highest rate belongs to Oshawa at 1.445235 %. On the other side of the equation, Toronto has the highest commercial rates, being 2.11328 %. The lowest are found in Milton with a rate of .950775 %. The commercial rates exclude the BET portion which is 1.97% in Toronto and 1.37% in Milton.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Are residents in the 905 area getting ripped off?

While Toronto residents pay considerably less property tax than those in the 905 region, they also get far more in provincial transfers. On average they receive at least $1058 per person more than those in the 905. Ouch! As the 905s growth (read votes) outpaces that of Toronto, I would wager that this squeaky wheel is going to be getting some grease. I say "at least" because it has been a common complaint that Toronto gets more provincial help than other areas. There are some very valid arguments as to why this should be. Toronto does incur more demand for the types of services that these funds provide for. The question must be asked though, how much more?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Toronto has hit a tax wall and it is made of caviar.

Toronto has hit a tax wall and it is made of caviar. Really, take a look at today's Toronto Star at the back of the classifieds it compares two homes sold ("What they got"). In Mississauga a house that sold for $480,000 paid $3928 in taxes. In Toronto a house that sold for $827,000 paid $3218 (and probably insist that they paid to much).

Is current shortfall really from downloading?

Lets see what the 2007 Budget tells us (link).Have a look at page 17. It shows that between 2003 and 2006 provincially mandated programs have escalated in cost by 66 million dollars. Now turn to page 23. It shows that from 2003 to 2006 provincial funding increased by 95 million dollars, yet things are supposedly getting worse. We need and deserve a better explanation!

We need more other !

In the 2007 Toronto budget background information PDF (link)there is a simple graph that is used to illustrate how tax dollars are spent. The first thing that is apparent is that Toronto needs a whole lot of 'other' (see the bottom of the graph). Furthermore, unless I am mistaken, this does not include expenses for capital spending, which is a considerable part of the budget,1.7 billion dollars.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The score: 905 region 12.6, Toronto 1.4

Between 2000 and 2006, slightly over 14 million s.f. of office space has been
developed across the GTA with the overwhelming majority (90%) taking
place in suburbs. Mississauga itself, while being less than half the size of Toronto, had five times the amount as Toronto. To make matters worse, a large portion of Toronto's amount is being built by the city (the Courus building). This is because the private sector would not do it.

PS. It is funny how moving jobs from Queen West to the lake front can be labeled job creation.

What should non-residential taxes be.....

Here is the Ontario regulation that answers that question. Basically commercial and industrial properties should be taxed anywhere from 60% to 110% to that of residential ones. On average it means that these properties should be paying about 85% of what a similarly valued residential property should pay.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Guess the tax.

Guess the tax.......

This is a 2200 square foot commercial property (Sheppard ave west) across from Downsview park assessed at $310,000, guess the amount of property tax it pays.

As a point of reference......

Home for sale at 1.4 million, taxes $5093

The answer is $14,000

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Traffic jams from 416 to 905

The governments own statistics, the Cordon Count, align with this Toronto Star story.

The 2006 tally of cars travelling designated roads in Toronto and surrounding region shows non-traditional commutes are increasingly the norm with relatively fewer cars heading into the city's core, or central business district, and more of us heading to jobs in the suburbs or the 905 communities, often skirting Toronto's borders altogether.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A free tax cut!

"The choice is simple..... you can have 2% of 2 million or 1% of 4 million. Either way you are getting $40,000."

John Barber of the Globe and Mail made a very interesting observation in his Nov 8 2006 column (My magical plan to bring jobs back).

Even Ernie Eves and Mike Harris knew that wasn't fair, so the finance minister instituted a program to reduce Toronto's business-education tax rate to a reasonable level over a period of five years. Unfortunately he cancelled the phase-in two years later, and the McGuinty government, crying poor, has failed to bring it back. The result is that today, the excess provincial take is a major component of the "tax gap" that is driving investment out of town.

But something quite astonishing happened when taxes did fall. Between 1998 and 2000, a period when assessments were frozen, the Business Education Tax rate in Toronto fell about 10 per cent -- equivalent to a 5-per-cent cut in overall business taxes. But when Ontario properties were revalued in 2001, it turned out that commercial assessments in Toronto had increased by about 40 per cent.

By comparison, commercial assessments in the rest of Ontario, without the benefit of steep BET cuts, only increased 14 per cent over the same time period.

Even if the Toronto tax cuts were responsible only for a fraction of the huge gain in property values, they were self-financing -- just as supply-side theory predicts.

Over the same two-year period, Toronto gained an impressive 100,000 new jobs -- the sharpest growth in employment since the mid-1980s. Was that a coincidence? I don't think so. Nor does coincidence seem to explain why employment immediately levelled off and began to decline when the tax cuts stopped.

Some science to back up the claims!

If anyone is doubting the effects that property taxes have on values, I offer the following as further evidence. John F. McDonald, PhD, is Emeritus Professor of Finance and Economics and Director of the Center for Urban Real Estate in the College of Business Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received his PhD in economics from Yale University in 1971, and joined the UIC faculty in that year. He is editor of the Journal of Real Estate Literature. He has published six books, including the forthcoming Urban Economics: Theory and Policy (Blackwell, 2006) with Daniel McMillen, and over 80 articles in academic journals that include Journal of Urban Economics, Review of Economics and Statistics, American Economic Review, Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, and Review of Accounting and Finance. (I would think that these would be enough credentials :) ). Researched this exact topic in Chicago. Chicago faces a similar, though not as dramatic, situation. His paper "Are property taxes capitalized in the selling price of industrial real estate? " came to the conclusion that they are........

There are only a few econometric studies of the selling price of improved industrial properties. The study presented here contributes to the topic by looking at the industrial real estate market near O'Hare Airport in metropolitan Chicago for 2001-2004. This study finds that comparable properties located in suburban Cook County--the central county in the metropolitan area--sold at a 16.2% discount compared to the adjacent county (DuPage County) because of the sharply higher property tax rate imposed on industrial property in Cook County: 4.32% in Cook County versus 1.69% in DuPage County for the properties included in this study. The magnitude of the property tax effect implies that the hypothesis of full capitalization of the tax cannot be rejected. In addition, the selling price per square foot depends upon a number of characteristics of the property as expected...........


The focus of the study is on the market for industrial property in the O'Hare Airport area, which has an unusual exogenous property tax feature. The mean property tax rate for the properties in the sample was 2.63% of market value higher in Cook County compared to DuPage County. The results show that properties located in Cook County sold at a 16.2% discount compared to properties located in DuPage County; this result is approximately consistent with full capitalization of a 2.63% property tax differential.

The full paper is available @ (free registration)

Where are the jobs?

A comparison of projected employment in the city of Toronto compared to actual employment figures. Extrapolated from the City of Toronto Official Plan, 2005 projected 1,519,000, minus actual of 1,262,700, leaves a shortfall of 256,300. From the city of Toronto Places to Grow forecast, 1,460,000, minus actual of 1,262,700, leaves a shortfall of 197,300.

What possible effect can this have on the crucial non-residential assessment base? In 2005 the average non residential assessment per employed person in the city was $43,000. Taken at the average (2007) tax rate of 2.12% that means if, in a worse case scenario, the city may have missed out on a potential 230 million in revenue. While it is more likely that the city has not suffered such a large impact, even at one third of the projections that leaves a considerable amount of missed revenue. Toronto has clearly taxed its non residential sector beyond the point of being beneficial. The current rates have proven to be counter productive.

Here is some more proof!

The chart above comes from a report by Hemson Consulting done on behalf of the city of Toronto ( . If in 1986 one was to have spent $1,000,000 on industrial land in Mississauga today it would be worth over $4,000,000. By comparison if that money was spent in Toronto it would be worth on average today $1,800,000. Applying commercial tax rates on the current values would mean that Mississauga would receive 42,678.84 from that property (4,000,000 * 1.066971%). By comparison Toronto would receive 41,278.13 (1,800,000 * 2.2932294%). All the while it misses out on the development and other charges which net the city a lot of revenue. In the end, even though Mississauga has a much lower tax rate, it makes up for the 2% difference in net property tax ( realized income ) by increased development charges and volume.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Coincidence of South of Steels and S.O.S

There is no coincidence!

Toronto is in trouble. Much of it is self inflicted. According to the city's own research, jobs are fleeing to the surrounding 905 areas. The main cause of this is Toronto's incredibly high property tax rates on non residential properties. On average Toronto's rates are twice as high as its neighbours.

What the city seems to be overlooking is that, despite having rates twice as high, it generates the same income as its neighbours. How can that be, you ask?

Lets suppose that there are you are in the market for a new home. Again suppose that you come across a couple of nice semi-detached homes that you are considering. In this case, two of the homes that you are looking at are actually attached to one another. Both homes, the right and the left ones, are identical. I would be a fair assumption that that all things being equal, like condition and finishes, they would be worth the same amount of money. That is only logical.

Now, lets say that the house on the right pays $2000 in property taxes and the on on the left $4000 and there is no means to correct this imbalance. The house on the left will always pay twice the amount of tax as the one on the right. Would you be willing to pay the same for each? If so you must be David Miller. For the rest of us the answer is simple. Of course not!

Now back to my original point, Toronto does not gain extra revenue be having a higher tax rate than surrounding regions. Let me show you an example....

It should be plainly obvious that higher taxes rates, by means of reducing assessment, do not translate into higher revenues. This is an area that has received some attention by economist. Most of are probably familiar with the concept of "diminishing returns". Some, like Arthur Laffer and Robert Inman have tried to quantify this process. That is what is happening in Toronto.