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.