One of the possible greatest urban myths, in the whole region of Windsor and its buddy Essex County, is the one about Windsor’s city council holding the line on taxes. Actually, it hasn’t.
It has cleverly been benefitting from school boards with declining enrolments and the province uploading some costs of local government.
Faced with less students in their schools, the boards have been reducing their need for taxpayer support. The city has not passed these savings on to taxpayers. It has commandeered them.
It is a very simple scheme.
During the years taxes were said to be held, to some imaginary line, they really should have been declining. Instead, the city used a wonderful financial manoeuvre in which it simply took over the decreases in the education portion of the tax bill.
To the untrained eye of most taxpayers, it looked like taxes were staying about the same. In reality, the city’s tax take kept rising while the education taxes kept sinking.
For reference, in 2008 the education tax rate was 0.00264. Next year it dropped slightly to 0.00252 followed by lower rates every year, specifically 0.00241, 0.00231, 0.00221, 0.00212, and 0.00203. By 2015, it was down to 0.00195, or a drop of 69 points.
Over the same time, the Holding-the-line Gang actually increased its tax rate. It moved from 0.01741 in 2008 to last year’s 0.01829.
It is all there laid out nicely in columns on the city’s own website.
One publicly funded arm of government, the educators, tried to give taxpayers a break. The other arm, the municipality, took it away.
Of course, the accountants might argue the overall tax intake over the period remained at or about $320 million annually. This, too, is a bit of a misnomer. To the untrained eye, it does appear the tax line was held. But that is a bit of sleight of hand.
If taxpayers had been given their just due, and enjoyed the decreases in the education part of their bills, the net take would have declined. In other words, holding the line was really cleverly increasing taxes each year.
There is also the issue of the provincial government picking up more costs. It is called uploading, in which the province pays for services provided by the municipality.
Former city administrator Helga Reidel told the Windsor Star on November 22, 2013, about the province, “… continuing to upload some former municipal costs.”
This uploading should have spelled tax relief for the city’s hard pressed denizens. But, it didn’t happen.
Instead, the council prided itself on holding the line, knowing they were actually increasing property taxes.
Actual taxes paid by each homeowner do change each time the province’s assessment office re-assesses properties. The powers that be talk of these assessments forcing the city to adjust its tax rate so it can produce the same amount of revenue.
The powers don’t mention, however, what happened to the lower education taxes and the uploading.
Collectively, the lower education taxes and the downloading should have seen tax decreases over the years the so-called line was held. All those years the councillors were simply pretending they were doing the impossible.
The only solution to this is, whenever the council’s members come around to brag about holding the line, taxpayers should condescendingly pat them on their heads and say, “There, there, we believe you.”
Robert Tuomi can be heard at noon every Thursday co-hosting Talkin’ ‘Bout Windsor on CJAM 99.1 FM. Listen on demand to previous episodes or catch the discussion live and join in. It is also streamed online at CJAM.