There have been some steep increases in our property taxes in recent years, and if Council has their way, the trend will continue. Over the past five years (2007 – 2012) the Town Tax has increased by 47%, or an average of 8% per year (compounded). In the next five years, it will increase by 40%. That’s what the town’s recently approved long-term financial plan says; it will increase the Town Tax by 7% per year until year 2017. It continues a worrying trend that many of us taxpayers can’t afford.
Our property tax bill is divided into three main parts: Town Tax; County Tax; and School Tax. The County Tax and School Tax are collected by the town, and passed along to Lanark County and the School boards respectively. The Town Tax, along with other income, is used to pay for the services we get from Mississippi Mills. The 7% increase per year applies to the Town Tax, which in 2012 is $6.63 million and comprises 42% of our property tax bill.
The property tax is paid by all the property owners in proportion to their property values. So if the number of households increases, there are more taxpayers to share the burden. Over the past four years, the number of households has increased from 4,933 to 5,209. So the growth has been only 1.4% per year. Realistically, we would expect the Town Tax to increase at the rate of inflation plus growth. Our inflation rate in Ontario is now less than 1% but over the past few years has averaged about 2%, so let’s assume 2% inflation and add that to the 1.4% growth, and we get 3.4%. Why, then, is the Town Tax increasing at 7%, over double the reasonable rate?
Looking at the financial plan, the big driver in the near term is capital expenditures, mainly roads and bridges. There’s a backlog of these to be repaired. About $16.6 million will be spent on capital expenditures in the next five years, and after that it is projected to continue at a rate of roughly $2.5 million per year.
Rapidly rising taxes are bad enough, but actually, it’s even worse than that. Not only are the taxes going up, but the town’s debt load is increasing. Five years ago, the town’s debt was $4.6 million. Now the debt is $16.3 million, and the plan calls for this to increase in the coming years. So if, instead of taking on more debt, we had paid for this through taxes, the tax rise would have been even higher than it has been. But Council is too afraid to pass on the real cost of their spending. They wouldn’t get re-elected.
And if you’re wondering what ‘s been happening to the other parts of the property tax bill – the County and School Taxes: Over the past five years, the County Tax, which is 34% of our tax bill, increased at a rate of 3.8% per year; and the School Tax, 24% of our tax bill, increased by 2.3% per year.
If these tax increases concern you, if you wonder whether our town’s spending is out of control, then it’s time to get involved. Council will not curb their exorbitant spending increases until they hear some loud voices from the public. Write to Council, call your councilor or attend council meetings and make your views known. Councillors are always hearing from residents who want their services improved, but addressing these complaints drives taxes up. Now, the silent majority who worry about rising taxes must have their say, but be ready with suggestions on how to cut spending.
Chris Barlow, Blakeney